By Kellen M. Quigley
A tale as old as time is being told by the Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association (CCLAA) starting this weekend with their performance of “Beauty and the Beast.”
The CCLAA and a cast of area performers will bring Disney’s 1991 film to life at the Ray Evans Seneca Theater starting Aug. 3 with this stage production of the classic story during six performances over the next two weekends.
“Every theater company needs to do something every year that is very popular,” explained Todd Wager, the show’s director. Last summer CCLAA did the popular show “Grease” followed by “Pippin” this winter, which he said is a lesser known production.
“We have to do something to balance it all out. Something for everybody,” he said. “When you do a Disney musical, you have to do ‘Beauty and the Beast.’”
Based on the story by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve published in 1740, “Beauty and the Beast” tells the story of a prince transformed into a beast who seeks to return to human form by earning the love of the girl he has captured in his castle.
As one of the most well-known musicals and movies by kids, Wagner said they had nearly 80 people audition for the show, many of which were completely new to theater.
“For the first time since I’ve been here we actually had to turn people away,” he said. “But it’s great to see that kind of turn out.”
However, between the cast, crew and orchestra, about 80 people are still involved in the production, Wagner said, which makes it CCLAA’s biggest show since “Ragtime” in 2010.
“Right from the beginning it’s been very easy. Just say the rules, regulations and consequences, and everyone has cooperated,” he said. “Especially since we have such a good balance of veterans and new people, so they know how it works around here.”
Different from previous years, Wagner said the rehearsal schedule went to one less day per week but they stayed one hour longer each night.
With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, the musical showcases songs such as “Belle,” “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast” all played by a 25-person-plus orchestra.
“The highlight for me has been how amazing the orchestra is,” Wagner said. “I’d say it’s probably the best orchestra we’ve had in here.”
To accommodate the size of the orchestra needed for the sound they wanted, the crew removed the first three rows of seats in the house.
Wagner said conductor Ruth Fuller will essentially be in the middle of the orchestra with musicians in front of her and behind her, including a large section of strings and tipinis that will stand out.
“You want that sound, that big Broadway sound,” he explained. “Even the big orchestras on Broadway now aren’t this big. Musicians are expensive, so it’s a privilege to see this type of orchestra.”
Among the more challenging aspects has been completing the large, intricate castle set, which includes an upper walkway across the stage and a double staircase.
“It was finally built a couple days ago,” Wagner said. “It went from a heart-shaped staircase to a circular staircase. We had to have the right person to be able to build it and know how to with math.”
Because of the popularity of the show and having to remove three rows of seats, Wagner said it’s likely some of the shows will sell out and suggests pre-ordering tickets online or showing up to the theater earlier than normal.
“It’s every child’s dream to find that right one and fall in love,” he added, “and Disney does it best.”
“Beauty and the Beast” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 3, 4, 10 and 11 and at 2 p.m. Aug. 5 and 12 at the Ray Evans Seneca Theater on Main Street. Tickets can be purchased for $15 through www.showclix.com or at the door prior to the show.