PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Beauty and the Beast at Fort Myers Theatre brings fantasy to life

When Disney released its version of Beauty and the Beast in 1991, it was a game-changer for the House of Mouse. It wasn’t just that Beauty and the Beast became first animated film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture ... the film changed animation ever after.

Now, imagine sitting in a theater watching B&B when, suddenly, the animated characters magically become human.

I can't wait to be human again
When we're human again, only human again
When we're knickknacks and whatnot's no more
Little push, little shove
They could, whoosh, fall in love

But instead of being a passive participant, you’re entwined in the action that’s unfolding all around you. That’s the very effect that Director/Choreographer Robin Dawn Ryan and her youthful cast seek to achieve when they bring Beauty and the Beast to the Fort Myers Theatre stage beginning May 11th.

Actor Rachel Drake, who plays LeFou, thinks this is the real draw of their production of the Disney classic:

“I was one of those kids that watched the 90s version of Beauty and the Beast, and that’s what I think everybody thinks of. This show, I feel like you really get a look at the characters, and this cast does such a wonderful job of really getting into their character more so than any animated movie would. And this theater is great because you are so up close and personal with all of the actors that it’s almost like you’re a part of the production.”

What enables so many young people to relate to the story is Belle. She’s neither a princess, a mermaid nor an ice queen. Instead, she’s just a “rather odd” girl who doesn’t quite fit in.

Now it's no wonder that her name means "Beauty" Her looks have got no parallel
But behind that fair facade I'm afraid she's rather odd
Very diff'rent from the rest of us
She's nothing like the rest of us
Yes, diff'rent from the rest of us is Belle!

Christina Thurmond, who plays Belle, thinks her character is even more relatable because she demonstrates that an inevitable part of growing up is replacing our idealistic, unrealistic childhood dreams with a more accurate perception of who and what we want to be. It’s the message that’s encapsulated by “A Change in Me.”

And I-- I never thought I’d leave behind
My childhood dreams but I don’t mind
I’m where and who I want to be
No change of heart A change in me

Perception lies at the very heart of the story. Beauty has little to do with physical appearance and everything to do with heart and soul. But rather than focusing on that which unites us, too many focus on differences like gender identification, ethnicity and race.

Noah Lynch plays the Beast, and it is this latter aspect of the musical that causes him to cite “The Mob Song” as his favorite number in the entire show.

“There’s a line that sticks with me, and I kind of think it’s funny, because it applies to our life. But it goes, ‘We don’t like what we don’t understand. In fact, it scares us.’ I think it’s really funny because that’s exactly what we’re seeing of the Beast. They’re just making this judgment of … you know, the whole theme is to not judge a book by its cover. And then we’re making a judgment already of who this Beast could be that he’s going to feed off our children and do all these bad things.”

We don't like what we don't understand
In fact, it scares us
And this monster is mysterious at least
Bring your guns! Bring your knives!
Save your children and your wives
We'll save our village and our lives
We'll kill the Beast!

Setting themes and characters aside, Lynch thinks that the set they’ve created will make people want to see the show more than once.

“The set is very cool,” says Lynch. “We have staircases and all these platforms and all this really cool, funky stuff, and that’s something people will want to come back and see over and over and over again.”

Rachel Drake wholeheartedly agrees.

“Adults are going to get something deeper out of it, from the love story and the good-versus-evil, where the kids are just going to be mesmerized by the magic that’s happening on the stage – the music and the dancing plates and all of the amazing choreography. They’re just going to be stunned by that. So you need to come once by yourself. Then come bring the kids and the grandkids. You’re probably going to want to come a third time just to end on a note where you’re not distracted by anything else and you can just jump into the magic again.”

What’s clear is that there is something for everyone in this family-friendly musical.

Beauty and the Beast plays at Fort Myers Theatre May 11th through the 21st.

Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends

Just a little change Small to say the least Both a little scared Neither one prepared Beauty and the Beast

Go here for play dates, times and a full cast list.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.