Above: Summer Souza is Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” musical, a production of Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company. (Charity Czechorski Photo)
Below: Will Belle (Summer Souza) be able to save the Beast and the enchanted objects in his castle before the last rose petal falls? (Charity Czechorski Photo)
Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company invites the public to “be our guest” with its production of the Academy Award-winning film coming to stage at the Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell Performing Arts Center.
The classic story tells of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed into his former self. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity.
The performance is the original Broadway version with music by Alen Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The book is by Linda Woolverton.
Cast as Belle is Summer Souza, Beast is Bryan Hunley, Gaston is Tony Souza, Le Fou is Spenser Willden, Maurice is John Bitner, Cogsworth is Jason Steward, Lumiere is Michael Sweeney, Babette is Cheyenne Hellmers, Mrs. Potts is Michele Massey, Chip is Eric Souza, Madame de la Grande Bouche is Miranda Stroble, Silly Girl 1 is Mia Huddleston, Silly Girl 2 and 3 is Julie Martinez and Elissa Featherstone, the prince is Jose Perez Torres and D’Arque is Brady Crump.
There are 33 ensemble members including seven children. Tony Souza is director, set designer and technical director, with Devon Bullock as assistant director. Cydni Vandiver is music director and Janet Macaluso is assistant music director. Choreographer is Summer Souza, Jan Smith is costumer, Tarra Morgan is in charge of makeup and hair. Stage manager is Brianna Bitner and assistant technical director is John Bitner.
The elaborate fantastic musical comes just after the release of the new movie. Asked about if Summer Souza knew about the release, she said, “We knew they were making a remake, we didn’t know when it would come out and we chose this date ahead of time. For us, it is either a really good thing, or really bad thing, depending how the movie goes over. It was a smash hit. So, hopefully, that is a good thing for us.
“There has been a lot of challenges, along with the costumes,” Summer Souza said. “There are so many costumes in this show, enchanted objects and villagers and everybody got all of these changes. Jan Smith, our costumer, has been amazing. She’s got a team working on that.”
“The biggest challenge has been the different kinds of costumes we had to do this time,” Smith said. “We are creating inanimate objects, who also need human costumes that match. I think the costumes this time are more elaborate than we’ve ever done before, like Belle’s dress.
“Casey Bedford is my right arm; I have three people who are helping to sew the costumes. They are Nan Hein, who is in the show, Hannah Sweatfield, who has done some costumes before and Agnes Bonham, who has also helped with costumes before. She is doing also some decorating and painting. And Cathy Knight, she made the mistake at a garden club meeting asking me if I could use some help sewing,” Smith said and laughed.
“We are doing a live orchestra as we did with Mary Poppins,” Summer Souza said. “We are working on that.
“One of the biggest challenges we have is that it is a huge technical show,” Summer Souza said. So many technical effects, we are bringing the flying effects in again. Then, we have the rose that has to wilt on cue.”
About the technical aspect of the wilting rose, Tony Souza said, “It is an advanced design in a design that I made five years ago for ENMU-R’s production. It is the next evolution. It is really what I wanted to build back then but ran out of time and money. With WWOB’s resources we were able to fulfill that dream. Essentially what happens, is our daughter Emily is playing the role of the magic. She was one of the people during ‘Mary Poppins’ that did all the tricks backstage. She will actually have a control board with her and will turn a switch and drop which pedal we want — six altogether — and in whatever order we want. We will be able to do that and it twinkles and glows.
“For the animated movie, which it is based on, they had the ability to draw what they want,” Tony Souza said. “If they want to have a singing and dancing candelabra, they can do it. When the stage show came out in the ‘90s, they had to get creative. What we are basically trying to do is recapture that lightning in a bottle. We are trying to create what they have done on whatever scale we can.
“Obviously, we don’t have a multi-million dollar budget as Disney has,” Tony Souza said. “At the Broadway show with Lumiere, he’s got actual flames that come out. We, number one, can’t have a fire in the building, number two, it is a huge expense. So, how do we do that? Come up with some clever ideas, like the torch effects from halloween and things like that, to simulate that.
“It’s really also kind of a magical show in which you have to transform the Beast and make it believable. It is a frustration and a challenge that the primary audience is children. Children are so good at spying how you did something. So, how do we do that and make them believe that it is a magical thing? Kids are on us all the time. Transforming the Beast is a huge technical problem. We are bringing in ZFX (the company specializes in flying acts) that did ‘Mary Poppins,’ they will help us with that transformation,” Tony Souza said.
“Some days are more challenging but it’s a lot of fun,” Summer Souza said.
Tony Souza is also performing as Gaston. “Why do I always have to play the evil guy?” Tony Souza asked his wife, Summer. Laughing, she bantered back, “Well, you are so good at it,” she said and laughed.
Fifteen-year-old Goddard freshman Mia Huddleston was cast as Silly Girl 1 and doubles also as a dancing napkin. “I always loved theater, even before I was born, as a fetus. My first show was “Charlotte’s Web” with the Roswell Community Little Theatre when I was 8 and my first musical was “Seussical The Musical.” This is my fifth one. I was born and raised here,” Huddleston said.
“Musicals are something that I have been enjoying my entire life. I didn’t even dream that I ever could perform in a musical, let alone at such a young age in Roswell. There is now so much. It is a beautiful thing. I can just go and audition for a show which I loved my entire life. It is really cool,” Huddleston said.
Cast in the iconic role of Lumiere is Michael Sweeney, who had recently directed and performed in “The Mystery of Irma Veep” and “The Wizard of Oz” at RCLT. “I am enjoying the people and the cast,” Sweeney said. “We are all working for a really great show. It has been fun. I walked in and didn’t know anybody and everybody was, ‘Welcome to the group.’ That was the best part.
“Lumiere is a fun character. He is kind of silly. I think he thinks of himself being more important than he really is. He thinks he is the ladies’ man and everything. He is not really great at it, I think,” Sweeney said and laughed. “I enjoy the character. He is fun. I enjoyed the process from the beginning.”
“When you join you become part of our theater family. And you are stuck with us for good,” Summer Souza said and laughed. “We call ourselves a theater family because we hang out outside of the show.”
“It is kind of ‘Les Miserables’ or ‘Mary Poppins’ again,” Summer Souza said. “We take challenges, we take it and accept it and go for it. That’s what we do.
“Tickets are going fast,” Summer Souza said.
Performances will take place at the ENMU-R Performing Arts Center on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m., June 16-18 and 23-25. For information and tickets, visit waywayoffbroadway.com.
Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.