In the familiar tale, a young woman named Belle seeks adventure and escape from a provincial town. Meanwhile, time is running out for a once-handsome prince who has been cursed by an enchantress. If he can learn to love and be loved, the spell will be broken. If not, he and his household will be doomed forever. Will Belle help him learn his lesson in time?
Based on the Academy Award-winning animated feature made in 1991, “Beauty and the Beast” was the first Disney movie to be adapted into a Broadway musical. It ran for a total of 13 years and has played to more than 35 million people worldwide with original songs written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, along with new songs by Menken and Tim Rice.
“‘Beauty and the Beast’ was the first Broadway production I ever saw, and so it holds a very special place for me,” says Chris Hamby, producing artistic director for TheaterWorks. “The team at TheaterWorks is finally in place to mount this production in a just way. This may be one of the largest productions that we have ever taken on, and all signs indicate that it will be a memorable one. The scenic elements alone will be worth the price of admission.”
Playing the part of Belle is Addison Bowman, a senior at Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Phoenix. She is the recipient of 2016 and 2017 National Youth Arts Artist of the Year awards and the recipient of two 2017 ariZoni Awards for her roles as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” and as Rosalie Mullins in “School of Rock” for Spotlight Youth Theatre. Other past credits include Princess Fiona in “Shrek the Musical” for Valley Youth Theatre and Fantine in “Les Misérables School Edition” for TheaterWorks.
“Belle is such a strong and independent woman who doesn’t need anyone’s approval in order for her to be her true authentic self,” Addison says, adding it’s what she loves about the character. “She focuses on what she loves and runs with that, no matter what people have to say. On top of that, she is smart, kindhearted and gentle, but could put someone in their place if she needed to!”
Addison believes “this show has a very important message that many people, especially children and teens, need to hear and comprehend.” Namely, “you do not need to conform to someone else’s version of normal in order to be happy. Belle and the Beast were both seen as ‘different’ from many people’s point of view, yet they still lived ‘happily ever after.’” Addison agrees with the saying that “beauty lies within.”
Making his TheaterWorks debut is Anand Khalsa as the Beast. A 19-year-old theater major at Mesa Community College, Anand has performed as Sir Robin in “Spamalot” for Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, Fred in “A Christmas Carol” for Scottsdale Musical Theater Company and Will Bloom in “Big Fish” for Brelby Theatre Company.
“I believe the Beast is one of the most layered, emotionally complex characters in the Disney canon,” Anand says. “He has the most significant arc of any character in the show, and his inner transformation is central to the overall story. The challenge as a performer is clearly conveying this to an audience within the confines of a two-hour musical.”
Anand says he hopes that audiences who’ve seen the animated version or other staged productions of “Beauty and the Beast” will appreciate TheaterWorks’ unique take on this modern classic.
Addison’s wish is that by the end of the performance, everyone attending will feel content and happy with the person they are. “I hope audiences leave the show with a huge smile on their face,” she says.
That seems likely. “The core of this production is a beautiful story with beautiful music,” according to Hamby, “and this cast could perform it sans sets and fancy costumes and still bring a smile to your face and tear to your eye.”
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” is the final YouthWorks production of this season at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, onstage weekends May 3-19. In addition to the show, TheaterWorks invites everyone to celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 12, with fun, games and 12:30 p.m. tea with Belle for an additional $25.