MEAN ON TOP OF AN­GRY

‘This is not a warm and fuzzy Beast’

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - STAGE - By Jon W. Sparks Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

If you haven’t seen “Beauty and the Beast” on stage, it’s not be­cause there haven’t been op­por­tu­ni­ties. The­aters around town have been stag­ing it for years, al­though Theatre Mem­phis hasn’t got­ten in on that ac­tion un­til this week­end.

Theatre Mem­phis’ sea­son opener is its first time to present the Dis­ney clas­sic, and it’s pulling out the fine china for the oc­ca­sion.

And while it will cer­tainly be the fa­mil­iar tale that movie and the­ater­go­ers are used to, di­rec­tor Amy Han­ford has been putting into ac­tion spe­cific ideas she wants to see in it.

“There are so many dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions you can go with this show, so many types of stage pro­duc­tions,” she says. “But we didn’t want a car­toon. We wanted real life char­ac­ters, real life sets. Even with our cos­tum­ing and light­ing, we want to make sure that we’re telling a story with every­thing, but in a more real way as op­posed to a car­toon way.”

She adds, how­ever, that the fun as­pects of the char­ac­ters will be there in full.

“Ev­ery lit­tle girl wants to be a Belle, and the lit­tle girls who come are go­ing to look up to her,” she says. The role is played by Ash­ley Mc­cor­mack, who has starred in nu­mer­ous mu­si­cals in the re­gion for years. “Ash­ley pulls it off,” Han­ford says, “but also keeps a very real side of it. And then we have the Beast. We’ve worked hard to show the el­e­ment of fear in him, al­though not so much as to scare our au­di­ence out of the theater.”

Charles K. Hodges, a long­time ac­tor and singer who has done a na­tional tour of “Man of La Man­cha,” played the Beast at Desoto Fam­ily Theatre three years ago, with Mc­Cor­mack as Belle.

Hodges says he por­trayed the Beast more sym­pa­thet­i­cally in that pro­duc­tion. “That’s been drilled out of me in this one,” he says. “This is not a warm and fuzzy Beast, at least in Act 1. I por­tray two emo­tions: anger and more anger. He’s kind of mean.”

Adds Han­ford: “He is un­til Belle brings some light into him. It’s a nice dy­namic that you get to see the tran­si­tion of the beast be­cause of her, and that’s what I love so much about this show. We see his frus­tra­tion and anger of be­ing the Beast and liv­ing in this dark cas­tle and not hav­ing any hu­man in­ter­ac­tion. Ex­cept for forks and su­gar bowls and tea carts.”

Mc­cor­mack has done the role three times be­fore, and while it’s a bit dif­fer­ent each time, Belle is still Belle.

“She’s def­i­nitely a Dis­ney princess, and there are def­i­nitely Dis­ney princess mo­ments in this show,” she says. “She is a strong­willed, pas­sion­ate, in­de­pen­dent woman, and that’s one of my fa­vorite things about Belle is to por­tray that. This time we are try­ing to keep her very real and very re­lat­able to ev­ery­one. So it’s been some­thing to work on and break some of my Dis­neyisms.”

Some 150 peo­ple au­di­tioned for the mu­si­cal (a Theatre Mem­phis record) out of whom 30 were cho­sen. So there are, as you might ex­pect, some highly pro­fi­cient per­form­ers on tap. One is Jude Knight, who as Mrs. Potts gets to sing the ti­tle song, and another is Phillip Hime­book, who per­forms the jerk supreme, Gas­ton.

The crew in­cludes award-win­ning scenic de­signer Jack Yates, who has built a cas­tle and cre­ated the town. The chore­og­ra­pher is for­mer Bal­let Mem­phis dancer Travis Bradley, who has done lauded work at Play­house on the Square but is han­dling move­ment for the first time at Theatre Mem­phis.

THREE­PENNY’S THREE-FER

Three­penny Theatre Com­pany likes to do things a bit dif­fer­ently. Last week­end, it pre­sented four per­for­mances of three great one­act plays with a beer ac­com­pa­ni­ment.

3PT’S Beer Flight Theatre Nights pre­sented works by Ten­nessee Wil­liams, Harold Pin­ter and Ed­ward Al­bee, each paired with a par­tic­u­lar beer from Mem­phis Made Brew­ing Co. You might pre­fer one beer over another, and you could also play fa­vorites with the plays.

But even as all the brews were com­plex and dis­tinct, each play had its own virtues and thrills. Ja­clyn Suf­fel’s reverie in Wil­liams’ “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Lis­ten” was heart­break­ingly beau­ti­ful. The ter­ri­fy­ing right­eous pu­rity echo­ing through Pin­ter’s “The New World Or­der” was squirm­ingly good.

The long­est piece and the one most thor­oughly re­al­ized was Al­bee’s “The Zoo Story” with breath­tak­ing per­for­mances by Michael Khan­lar­ian and Corey Parker. It was sublime to have a play of such bril­liance per­formed by ac­tors of such in­tel­li­gence. Call it one of the most riv­et­ing per­for­mances on lo­cal stages in a long time — and there have been some stellar ones lately.

Matt Crewse, a founder of the com­pany, di­rected all three plays and was pro­duc­tion man­ager. He’s got a keen in­stinct for pre­sent­ing re­mark­able works in fresh ways, and Beer Flight Theatre has proven the point again.

THEATER GA­LORE!

Speak­ing of bold theater com­pa­nies, a cou­ple of new ones have been an­nounced in the past week.

Quark Theatre is be­ing put to­gether by Tony Is­bell and Adam Rem­sen, the duo who a year ago pre­sented a me­morable pro­duc­tion of Sa­muel Beck­ett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Ohio Im­promptu.”

In that vein, Quark (quark­the­atre.com) will stage pow­er­ful, award-win­ning plays, be­gin­ning with “Black­bird” by David Har­rower next March. Next Septem­ber, it will of­fer “Years to the Day” by Allen Bar­ton, and in March 2018, it’s putting on “The Nether” by Jen­nifer Ha­ley.

Mean­while, vet­eran di­rec­tor Mar­ler Stone has formed Cen­treS­tage Theatre, which is pro­duc­ing “On the Wa­ter­front” next April. Al­though the web­site is new (cen­trestageth­e­atre.net), Stone staged “An En­emy of the Peo­ple” as his first Cen­tres­tage pro­duc­tion last spring.

SKIP HOOPER

In “Beauty and the Beast,” Ash­ley Mc­cor­mack as Belle reads to chil­dren — Katie Riedel (left), So­phie Younker and Olivia Cheng. At left rear, Meghan Cheng and Day­ton She­gog play cit­i­zens of the small vil­lage.

“Beauty and the Beast” runs Sept. 2-25 at Theatre Mem­phis on the Lohrey Stage, 630 Perkins Ext. Show­times: 7:30 p.m. Thurs­days, 8 p.m. Fri­days and Satur­days, 2 p.m. Sun­days. There will also be 2 p.m. mati­nees on Sept. 10, 17 and 24. Tick­ets: $30; $15 stu­dents, $25 se­niors 62 and above and mil­i­tary per­son­nel Info: the­atremem­phis.org and 901-682-8323.

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