Western Reserve Academy is thrilled to present its winter musical “Beauty and the Beast” inside our Knight Fine Arts Center.

Friday, Feb. 2, at 8 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 3, at 8 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 4, at 2 p.m.

Admission is free with open seating.

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On Friday, Feb. 2, Western Reserve Academy will debut “Beauty and the Beast” as its first Disney production, and while it might be a tale as old as time — this musical will feature some subtle adaptations, making it feel both familiar and fresh.

“It’s sort of an interesting challenge because in many ways, there’s less freedom to be fully creative because you want to meet audience member’s expectations, but that said, we definitely made sure it wasn’t a caricature of the film,” said Fine & Performing Arts Department faculty member and Director Midge Karam ’79. “It’s magical and nostalgic, without being cartoonish.”

This was as much a creative decision as it was pragmatic. You won’t see a Beast retrofitted in a head-to-toe body costume or animatronic wolves prowling the stage — and there’s no “illusion designer” in the credits list, like you might find on a Broadway production. But where there are practicality constraints, there are abundant opportunities for creativity and innovation. Dream team Karam, Technical Theater Director Brandon Davies and Fine & Performing Arts Chair (and head of the costume design) Carol Parker Mittal made some clever pivots and subtle departures, partnering with their students to put their own signature on the show.

And while it’s Reserve’s first staging of this particular musical, a lead team member was ready with prior experience and ideas already circulating.

“This is actually the fourth time I’ve done this show,” shared Davies. “It was definitely nice to know what to anticipate, what you think will work or won’t work for this particular stage, and how to incorporate those magical fairy tale elements.”

As he walked through the set, incomplete yet already impressive, he talked about design decisions that allow for easy movement for cast members in larger costumes (like a walking, talking wardrobe) and maximum scene flexibility, such as walls that can fold and snap into new places and a tiered set to show different levels and rooms inside an enormous castle. How else can you craft a set that needs to be a provincial village, a local tavern, a dungeon, a foreboding forest and an enchanted castle with a forbidden west wing, a library, a dining room (with room for dancing plates and silverware) — and more?

“There are pieces that will move in and out,” he explained in one example. “For example, when the mob charges the castle, we’ll have the forest fly in around them, so it looks like they’re marching through the woods. They haven’t left the stage, but you can see the course of their journey.”

And of course, the staging had to incorporate magical elements, such as a glowing, enchanted rose, a magical mirror with scrying power,  and — most ambitiously — a transformation of man to beast (and, spoiler alert, beast back to man). How this is all accomplished is under strict lock and key and will require a seat in the audience to witness it all firsthand!

Attention to detail has also been paid in abundance when it comes to the costuming. Parker Mittal and her Costume Design students have been hard at work making sure the dozens of cast members are dressed in attire fit for a fairy tale, with some dazzling surprises.

Seasoned costume designers Abigail Hurst ’24 and Eleah Taylor ’24, both of whom have dedicated an awe-inspiring amount of hours in the costume room to prepare for the show, provided a wardrobe tour to show off the incredible amount of work already done. Seated toward the back of the classroom space, Taylor paused in her work on an exquisitely crafted wolf’s head, with glowing red eyes set on a furry face and affixed with a 3D printed nose and jaw made in our Wang Innovation Center.

It was an impressive tour, made all the more impressive by their clear understanding of the historic fashion period, casually clarifying that the accessory LeFou wears around his neck is a jabot, and other references to the period-specific attire. 

“When we were making decisions about the overall look and aesthetic, we definitely looked at French colonial fashion and German Bavarian costumes of the 1750s,” shared Parker Mittal. “It’s fun to ride that line between what you see in the animated movie and the actual historic garments that you would see in the mid-1700s.”

Some pieces have been made from scratch (including Belle’s quintessential blue dress, stitched by Hurst), some were pulled from the large costume room and modified, and a few were rented, including many of the enchanted objects. Lumiere’s candle wick hands come with an internal switch that can “ignite” his hands as he pleases; the Wardrobe (a rather hefty piece) has a special opening from which a dress can be pulled; and Chip, the lovable teacup, will sit inside a mobile table, with his head poking through to mimic the character’s bite size.

It’s no secret that our theater productions require a high level of hard work, but what’s astonishing about this particular show is the timing. To put on a winter musical meant that our first semester stagecraft and costume design students started on these projects and a new crew of students had to be taught and then put to work when we resumed school post Holiday Break. It means a very high volume of students have all had a hand in the success of the show — from our talented cast members to the students who sewed buttons on vests or helped build the set.

After last year’s delightful and daring romp of “Mean Girls,” Karam admitted how excited she is to put on a show for all ages and hopes to see our many faculty kids in attendance (perhaps even in costume!) And though certainly family-friendly, the charm of Beauty and the Beast is as much its message as it is its magic.

“At its core, it’s just a really cool story. It’s about transformation and growth. Not judging a book by its cover. How love heals everything — which of course, what else could my message be?” joked Karam.

Like so many fairy tales, such themes transcend generations, providing opportunity for timely and thoughtful discussions about being curious about the world around you, the harmful impact of unchecked virulent masculinity, taking pride in the pursuit of knowledge, the power of an adventurous spirit and an open heart.

Above all else, it has been another rewarding experience, made all the more inspiring by the unique challenges met and overcome.

“I will say that this time of year makes for a difficult rehearsal schedule,” shared Karam. “We only had seven days in the theater before our Holiday Break, and one of those days was the RWE (Reserve Writing Exam). So what I find so rewarding is seeing the growth our cast has gained in such a short span of time. I’m seeing them grow in confidence every day. They’ve been patient and flexible in the face of a shuffling cast and a tricky schedule. So, to put on a show with these kinds of challenges is only possible when everyone works hard, and they have.”

We are days away from enjoying this enchanting performance — and we cannot wait to applaud all involved. Break a leg, Pioneers!