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Area Stage makes Disney’s Beauty and the Beast an immersive experience at Arsht – Sun Sentinel

Since its debut as an animated film in 1991, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast spawned a 1994 Broadway musical that ran through 2007 (in 5,461 performances), toured the country and was played around the world. The show has proven to be an extremely popular title for regional, community and school theater groups.

Now, Beauty and the Beast is back, this time as an Area Stage Co. Production at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami through Sunday, August 28, 2022.

Based on the 1756 French fairy tale ‘Le Belle et la Bête’ by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, as housekeeper Mrs Potts sings in the musical, is ‘a tale as old as time “. In Disney’s version, a sorceress’ spell transforms the vain, cruel Prince Adam into a fearsome human-beast and his staff into household objects. If he can experience true love before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose, they can return to human form. But after the beautiful, clever villager Belle takes her father’s place as the beast’s prisoner, her captor behaves so badly that true love seems highly unlikely.

The beloved story is a classic, but that doesn’t mean it has to be made the traditional way. As in 2021 with Area Stage’s immersive version of “Annie,” director Giancarlo Rodaz takes a new approach to a coveted show.

“I’m amazed no one has ever done it like this,” says Rodaz, associate artistic director of the company founded by his parents, artistic director John Rodaz, and managing director Maria Banda-Rodaz. “When you do theatre, you compete with every great medium that has ever been made. You have to take a risk.”

In this case, risks include size (16 actors are in the cast, some playing multiple roles), cost (Banda-Rodaz reports that Area Stage’s typical budget for major musicals is more than $275,000 up 25 percent for shows at Arsht due to additional production costs there) and the belief that audiences will respond just as enthusiastically to being a part of the action as they did with Annie.

The director admits he sometimes says to his parents, “What have I gotten myself into?” But the 26-year-old South Florida native, who grew up around Disney theme parks, continues to dream big when it comes to to provide audiences with experiences that offer a deeper level of fun.

“You think about what fun is. “Fun” is cheap. It can be an inflatable pool in your garden. What’s something really transporting that makes a big impression on your memory?” says Rodaz. “I thought: How great would it be to have people Yes, really be our guest I sat down with the actors [set designer] Frank Oliva and my parents to talk about what it would mean to tell the story for the audience.”

To that end, Area’s “Beauty and the Beast” takes place in a huge castle hall, with the audience seated at three long tables. He insisted that the story be told using only elements found in an 18th-century castle.

The musical’s title characters are played by New York’s Yardén Barr as Belle and Maxime Prissert (who grew up in Palm Beach Gardens) as the Beast. Barr’s resume includes shows such as “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Something Rotten!” and “Brigade”. Prissert has had leading roles in Oklahoma!, Cabaret, Man of La Mancha and Shrek the Musical.

Prissert, who played the narcissistic Gaston in a previous production of Beauty and the Beast, notes, “The Beast and Gaston are the ultimate adversaries. I read the script from Gaston’s point of view beforehand. Now, while writing, I noticed little things that are very obvious. The characters are similar but the beast handles things better.”

Now he plays a man in dire need of lessons, including the one about true beauty that comes from within.

“I’m Prince Adam. The ‘animality’ is a suffering, an exaggeration of his egoism,” says Prissert. “But he’s learning how to be a prince, how to love; Belle shows him that.”

Adds Rodaz: “It was the prince always a beast. Now he looks the way he is.”

Belle, Israeli-born Barr’s favorite Disney princess, is a role the performer has long coveted.

“Belle knows what she wants, but she doesn’t necessarily have the tools to get there. She rejects Gaston. She has her own dreams, her own passions,” says Barr.

A number of Area Stage veterans join the cast and they look forward to performing full immersive theater at Arsht Center.

“It’s the size that stands out the most,” says Frank Montoto, who plays Gaston and the servant Lumiere on the show. “It’s massive.”

“It’s so much grander,” says Katie Duerr, who plays Mrs. Potts. “It’s a fairy tale, it’s magic, it’s Disney.”

Imran Hylton takes on two very different roles in Beauty and the Beast. Audiences will see him as Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, and as the opera-singing Madame de la Grande Bouche.

What Hylton enjoys about the process of reinventing a musical, he says, is “taking a show and scaling it down… It’s a lot of fun.”

Rodaz acknowledges that most of the music in Beauty and the Beast is large in scale, so he faced the challenge of finding ways to draw the audience into the storyline.

“In the big number about Belle, we gossip with the audience,” he says. “In the bar act about Gaston, the audience at the center table gets prop cups. We make them complicit in cheering on a villain. It’s interesting and fun.”

Rodaz believes Area Stage is a deep dive into what he considers to be one of the top two Disney musical scripts (“The Lion King” is the other). He has enjoyed the creative process with his collaborators, the ‘voyage of discovery’ which he hopes will bring another dimension to a very successful musical theatre.

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“We’re trying to amplify what’s there,” he says. “This doesn’t feel like a children’s show. It feels like a real musical, beautifully written and with a great score.”

WHAT: Area Stage Co. presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

WHERE: Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

IF: Fridays to Sundays until August 28, 2022

COSTS: $32-$75

INFORMATION: 305-949-6722; asshtcenter.org

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