I spent two and a half hours Saturday leading a musical run through of “Beauty and the Beast” at the Racine Theater Guild, the fall production which will open the day after Thanksgiving. We have been rehearsing for a little over a month, but it’s very tricky to really know where we stand until you get everybody in the same room at the same time and just hammer through the whole score. So that’s what happened yesterday. And the verdict? We have work to do, but at the rate we’re going, we are going to have a gigantic hit on our hands – and that’s the sweetest feeling in the world. Actually, part of what has made our progress tricky to assess is that I didn’t put the music schedule together this time around- Doug did- and so things haven’t unfolded quite as they normally do. . . and I have actually spent a little less time with people than I typically do. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I tend to schedule more rehearsals than are necessary and then begin shortening them or even canceling some of them as warranted by the cast’s progress, so maybe the rehearsal time has in fact been about the same- but it has felt like considerably less. In this schedule, there has been a bit more time given to dance rehearsals and a little less to music rehearsals – and the consequences of that weren’t full evident until yesterday. But lo and behold, the cast is in terrific shape. It probably doesn’t hurt that they love this show so much and many of them probably knew most of the music before we had our first rehearsal.
What has already made this production such a pleasure is that it’s a great group of people who seem to be working together beautifully. . . a perfect mix of veterans and newcomers. . . and I think many of them already know what Doug and I have known right from the start – that this show is going to be something very special because we were able to cast this show from strength to strength. . . from Belle and the Beast down to the last chorus person. And everyone seems truly excited to be part of it.
One thing that was neat about yesterday is that it was the first chance that most of the cast had to hear their cast mates. For instance, no one had yet heard Ellie Hammond sing “Beauty and the Beast,” which she does with such heart. Our beast, Ryan Klug, has sung this role before, and he is magnificent, both vocally and dramatically. Zach Keil, is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet- but boy, he is managing to be an amazingly believable pompous you- know-what as Gaston- and he’s also done some working out in order to really look the part, biceps-wise. Our Lumiere and Cogsworth are two mega-talents: the former, Bob Benson, has been an RTG mvp for many years (our Bob Cratchitt, among other things) – while the latter, Eric Leitzen, is performing in his first RTG show. They are hilarious. So is another newcomer, Dan Ermel, who is a voice student of mine at Carthage; he is a perfect Le Fou. And our Belle, Vanessa Schroeder, is one of Carthage’s brightest lights. She was cast in the lead of the fall musical when she was just a freshman, which says something about her exceptional gifts, and she is truly superb in this role. And I love the chemistry between her and Gary Stamm, who plays her father, Maurice.
But for all the talent that is represented in the leads, it is the rest of the cast that really makes all of this gel so perfectly and gives the whole show that special sizzle. And when they are cutting loose with the climaxes of “Be our Guest” or “Human Again,” I feel like I’m standing in front of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Well, almost. 🙂 One thing that is especially sweet is that there are two young men in the chorus who have been leads in the past- Steven Wright, who was a wonderful Winthrop in “The Music Man” – and Mitchell Procter, who was Tiny Tim in “Scrooge.” It says a lot about these two guys that they would want to be part of this even if it means a place not squarely in the soloist’s spotlight.
One of the neatest things about Saturday’s rehearsal was how the cast quite spontaneously would burst into appreciative applause as various solos would be sung – and they would smile and laugh as they heard (many of them for the first time) things like Dan’s funny accent and voice for Le Fou or some of Bob’s antics as Lumiere. I’m sure there are plenty of corners in the musical universe where singers in a similar situation would sit in stony silence, resenting the fact that someone else gets to sing a given solo when it really should be them – but that sure didn’t seem to be the case yesterday. Everybody, from leads on down to the ensemble, seems genuinely excited to be part of this great show. And I’d like to take credit for that, as music director, but I have NOTHING to do with it. It’s them. I’m just the guy saying “nope, that’s a B-flat.” They’re the people making the magic happen.
pictured: the cast applauding as Ellie finishes singing “Beauty and the Beast.”