The Eau Claire Children’s Theatre production of the musical “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” presents what the group strives for in its audiences and its casts.
Perhaps that’s why the group chose the well-loved production during a season to help celebrate its 30th anniversary. The show opens a weekend run Friday, March 15, in Pablo Center at the Confluence’s RCU Theatre.
As Nathan Libby, who performs the role of Lumiere, explained: “Doing a Disney show especially, you get all the families in the crowd and the kids and the parents, and at this point with this show the parents grew up with ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as well as introducing it to their kids, and you get that whole experience of bringing families together to see a show for families.”
A fellow actor suggested the show generates a sense of family within the acting ensemble as well.
“It being the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre’s 30th anniversary, we have third-generation actors now,” said Tyler Hahn, who plays Cogsworth. “We now have grandparents that were in shows, parents that have been in shows, children that have been in shows now, and the same thing with our audiences.”
A conversation with six cast members in this, the fourth time the ECCT has staged the Disney musical, revealed how serious the group takes the pledge appearing on the group’s website: “provide quality theatrical and educational experiences for western Wisconsin residents of all ages.”
Among the six interviewed, one cast member was acting in her first ECCT show, and for others that number approaches 50 productions.
“I love that it’s a family show and that it’s a family event,” said Jodi Jewell, playing the Wardrobe in her ECCT debut. “I’m doing this with my daughter, who’s 13, and she’s also in the show. And it’s been a great time for us to spend time together.”
Joe Burger, who portrays the Beast, noted that the ECCT emphasizes variety as well as consistency.
“It’s always entertaining to know that each show is inherently different, whether that be a different cast, a different script or music or just different audience members,” he said. “There is always something to look forward to, there’s always something to be excited about, and that really brings a little bit of joy.”
Laura Cunningham, playing Mrs. Potts, said audience and cast can get similar types of that joy.
“I just love the fact that, for me personally and for other people, I know that theater is an escape,” she said. “So it’s fun for us not only to give other people that escape but to jump into these characters that we love and just kind of escape from the real world for a while and have a little fun.”
Ryan Dettbarn, cast as Belle, enjoys the artistic and collaborative side of what they do.
Of the former, she said, “I think one of the great rewards for me is I just love being able to express myself through every character I play ... and it just provides me with a creative outlet I feel I can’t get anywhere else.”
In addition, she noted, “I love the strong family bonds you develop in theater. And just the influence you can have, especially in younger generations who aren’t as exposed to the arts now.”
Libby pointed out that he, Burger and Cunningham have performed in multiple ECCT productions of “Beauty and the Beast,” which shows in microcosm how ECCT provides a chance for participants to grow and develop.
“And so even within this show we’ve done a little evolving,” said, adding later, “It’s a fun show to use whatever acting skills we’ve acquired since the last time we did it and bring an added little oomph we couldn’t have done before.”
For some, the association with the group has had benefits beyond the stage.
“At this point it’s such a big part of my life,” Libby said. “At this point all my friends are here, my life is here in the theater. It’s what I do, it’s who I am at this point.”
Cunningham echoed that point.
“I’ve been on the board now for six years, so I see that side of it, and I see the performance side of it and I see the tech side of it,” she said. “So I see all these things and its really become something … that identifies me.”
Of course, for all the joys of theater in general, “Beauty and the Beast” hold many rewards of its own, particularly for those with fond childhood memories of the tale as old as time.
As Dettbarn said: “For me this show it’s always been such a big part of my life. I remember being a young age I would be sick at home and I’d just watch it over and over and over again. And it was just one of my favorite movies. I saw that there were going to be auditions, and I just knew I had to do it.”
“I grew up with the show,” Cunningham said. “I remember falling in love with the story because I was a huge book nerd so I could totally relate to it. Those were the characters you always looked up to so it’s an honor to be able to play one of them.”
Both observations suggest the ways the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre’s story continues.
Contact: 715-833-9214, firstname.lastname@example.org, @BillFoy1 on Twitter