By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
It can be challenge to take a well-known animated film such as “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” and bring it to a theater stage.
“How do you create the flames in Lumiere’s hands as he raises and lowers them,” said Grand Rapids Civic Theatre Allyson Paris, who is directing Civic Theater’s production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”Or how does Mrs. Potts push the tea cart when she doesn’t have any hands?
Apparently many want to see just how Civic Theatre does create the magic as tickets for the upcoming show are selling quickly, according to Grand Rapids Civic Theatre Director of Development and Community Relations Nancy Brozek. “So if people want to see the show, they are going to want to snap up tickets soon.”
As to solving the problems Paris mentioned, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s costume wizard Robert Fowle knew just who to call to help build some of that theater magic, friend and colleague Kathleen Johnson.
“Building costumes for a production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has been on my bucket list,” said Johnson, who has more than 16 years of experience in musical theater, dance, radio and film as a costume and prop designer.
Originally from Grand Rapids and now based out of Chicago, Johnson saw the potential of using her background in mascot building to help create costumes designed for mobility.
“When you construct a costume for a mascot, it has to be done so that the person wearing it can move easily,” Johnson said. “The same is true for the costumes on stage. The actors have to be able to move easily while wearing the large costumes.”
Once the “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” show was cast, Johnson said she measured all the performers and headed back home to begin construction of the various pieces such as the wardrobe for Madame de la Grande Bouche which had to have a drawer that opens along with doors to show offer her “jewelry.”
To help reduce the weight of the costumes, Johnson turned to a variety of foams used in mascot construction which are also much easier to mold into “dancing” dishes and “entertaining” flatware.
There are still challenges for the actors wearing the costumes as Jason Morrison who plays Cogswoth pointed out.
“We have no peripheral vision, so we can’t see straight down or tell where we are walking,” Morrison said, adding that there will be assistants for the actors to help them move around backstage. “Also, I have to be careful as Cogswoth has a key sticking out his back so when turning I do not hit someone with it.”
Draws open, keys turn and Johnson has even planned out just how Lumiere’s candlestick will light when he raises his hands.
“Most people think of the fans that blow up the paper flames to make it appear like the sticks are burning,” Johnson said. “I have something a little better that will make them look like real candlesticks.”
As to how that theater magic happens, Paris said people will just “have to be our guest and come and see the show.”