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Augmenting its 2017 seasonal offerings, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has opened three new shows this month in the popular outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre.
The musical production “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” joins Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and an adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey” to entertain audiences under the night sky through mid-October.
- Angus Bowmer Theatre: “Julius Caesar” and “Shakespeare in Love” (both till Oct. 29); “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles” (July 6); and “UniSon” (Oct. 28)
- Thomas Theatre: “Henry IV: Part One” and “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” (both till Oct. 28)
“Henry IV: Part Two” kicks off in the Thomas Theatre July 4, and “Off the Rails” (OSF’s first play by an American Indian writer) rounds out the 2017 season with a July 27 start date. This is the first time in festival history that both “Henry IV” productions will be performed the same year, with overlap July 4 through closing. Part Two has a different director but the same cast.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” the stage production, has seven more songs than the 1991 film version of the story. (That film version became the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar). It is a delightful two-and-a-half-hour presentation in which the clever costumes, set design, live orchestra (performing from the second story of the stage) and choreography enhance but never upstage the story.
The “tale as old as time” flows easily and poignantly, with a feisty heroine who loves books (Belle, played by Jennie Greenberry), an eccentrically lovable father (played by Michael J. Hume), a garishly handsome narcissist (Gaston, played by James Ryen), a brusque and endearing Beast (played by Jordan Barbour), and a fun cast of characters including Cogsworth (Daniel T. Parker), Lumière (David Kelly), Mrs. Potts (Kate Mulligan), Babette (Robin Goodrin Nordli), Mme. De la Grande Bouche (Britney Simpson), and Chip (Naiya Gardiner).
Also noteworthy was Sara Bruner in the role of Gaston’s sidekick LeFou. Bruner played a memorable Charles Wallace Murry in OSF’s “A Wrinkle in Time” production in 2014, among other roles she’s had at OSF.
For those who might not be familiar with the story, “Beauty and the Beast” is about a young woman taken prisoner in a castle by a gruff beast, unaware that he is really a prince under a spell that will break only when love is freely given and returned.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” director Eric Tucker writes in his playbill notes that most everyone can relate to times when we have shut ourselves away from others, whether out of insecurity or a sense of regret and failure. There are times we’ve treated others “like an absolute beast,” he said. The play, based on the book by Linda Woolverton, illustrates the antidote to those shadowy places – learning to act with “tolerance, compassion, forgiveness, respect—with a healthy dose of manners,” Tucker writes.
More than 180 “animal bridegroom” myths have been identified on multiple continents; and in 2016, English and Portuguese anthropologists found that the origins of the “Beauty and the Beast” story date back 4,000 years, according to the OSF playbill.
The story comes largely from an 18th-century French fairy tale titled “La Belle et la Bête.” French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve published her tale in 1740 to address social injustices against women of the day. Her story was rewritten soon after her death by fellow Frenchwoman Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, who shifted the message from the Beast’s need to be civil to Beauty’s need to not judge by appearances, the playbill states.
The story gained international acclaim in a 1946 film version by Jean Cocteau, who gave it a surreal feel and had the Beast’s spell also impact the castle’s servants.
“Beauty and the Beast” became Disney’s second animated musical, after the success of “The Little Mermaid.” The latter was criticized for being sexist (because the heroine trades her voice for a pair of legs to attract a man), so Disney hired Woolverton to write the book for “Beauty and the Beast.” She pushed to give Belle some spunk.
For tickets and information about all OSF plays and the popular summertime Green Show, which features free outdoor entertainment six nights a week before the evening plays, visit osfashland.org.