Two years after he was scheduled to bring it to the downtown Rock Island dinner theater, director/choreographer Shane Hall finally invites us all to be his guest. He helmed “Holiday Inn” at Circa in summer 2019. “Beauty and the Beast” was one of the COVID casualties of 2020.
Seeing the show finally come to fruition is emotional, Hall said Monday.
“Just coming into it was like, we’re here,” he said. “I have a dance studio in Georgia I’ve owned 15 years. The arts was not a product these past two years, you could not DoorDash. It’s not like a clothing boutique where you can put a shirt in a bag and mail it to you or pick it up curbside.
“This is a product that needs groups of people and it’s not what it is without that,” Hall said. “So many people in theater companies have had such a world of resilience to figure it out, think outside the box.”
For the Circa show, it was a treat to see it start again after two years, he noted.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that ‘Beauty and the Beast is an expensive show, and this is still a time when theaters are recovering, the industry is recovering,” Hall said. “So coming back was really special, and just seeing everybody – remembering that we’re here. We’re able to do it, and that’s been very present in everybody’s spirit.”
“The work ethic is just beyond a 10 – everybody’s in good spirits to be here,” he said. “We take people’s health very seriously, because we’re still dealing with this disease.”
This show will be such a treat for Circa audiences, Hall said. “It’s a huge production.”
“It’s a show worth waiting for,” said Savannah Bay Strandin, who plays the spunky lead Belle. “All the patrons and the cast have asked, ‘When is Beauty and the Beast happening again?’ Everyone is so excited.”
Hall said that so many families love Disney musicals like this, and “Little Mermaid,” and “Mary Poppins” (which he’s also directed). “It’s very special,” he said.
Strandin hopes to take pictures with young Circa patrons after her performances.
“It’s interesting how people will find their unique character,” Hall said. “Some people like Lumiere, because he’s a showstopper. They love the Beast, or they’re scared of the Beast. They want to see Belle or Mrs. Potts or Chip. It’s interesting how their little minds grab on to characters.”
Past experience with the show
Hall splits his time between Georgia (near Atlanta) and New York City. He’s directed about a decade at Springer Opera House, including “Beauty and the Beast” there in 2015.
Regionally, he performed in the show at a dinner theater in Fort Atkinson, Wis., in 2006, working with the original Broadway associate choreographer. Hall was in the ensemble and played a salt shaker. “It’s fun, it’s interesting,” he said.
“I find the ensemble is so busy, if you allow it to be,” Hall said. “You can’t do without them.”
“I’ve done a bunch of Disney musicals, and I find my wheelhouse is large musicals,” he said of directing. “I like making pictures, and the pageantry of moving people around. I’ve always had a knack for large groups on stage, which can be overwhelming when you have 20-plus people looking at you asking, where do I go? How do I get there?”
A challenge of “Beauty and the Beast” is its multiple settings – a village, pub, forest, library, bedroom, the list goes on, Hall said. “It’s such a – no pun intended — beast of a set.”
The Circa set designer is David Goldstein, who Hall had worked with previously.
Christopher Morrissey, based in New York, is making his debut as associate director. He was in the cast of an international tour of “Beauty and the Beast,” in 2015-16, playing Monsieur D’Arque.
“I all but badgered him to be part of this,” he said of Hall.
The Circa Beast — Kyle DeFauw — was to perform Archibald Craven in Music Guild’s “The Secret Garden,” in spring 2020, when it also got canceled due to COVID, two weeks before opening.
“Beauty and the Beast” has been a two-year wait – everyone originally cast by Hall was offered to return, and the cast includes about 70 percent of those original. The woman first cast as Belle (who’s from Georgia) had a baby, so she couldn’t come back. There are 21 actors in the Circa cast, including two young performers double cast as Chip.
Strandin found she was cast in early March, and DeFauw was recommended by SAU theater professor Cory Johnson (after she heard from Circa owner Denny Hitchcock. He got the good news in late March.
DeFauw is a 2022 theater grad from St. Ambrose University. He has been seen locally in productions such as: SAU’s Little Women (Professor Bhaer) and Chicago (Miss Mary Sunshine); CCT’s The Music Man (Harold Hill) and Les Miserables (Marius), and QC Music Guild’s The Secret Garden (Archibald Craven) which was cancelled due to COVID.
He’s graduating on Saturday, May 21, and performs a show that night.
Childhood dreams come true
Strandin, 27, still can’t believe that her childhood dreams are coming true. Since her graduation from Western Illinois University in 2016, Savannah has worked regionally around the country. She took a small break from theater in 2018 to kick cancer’s butt, but now she’s back and feeling better than ever. Some of her favorite credits include Sandra/Florence (The Play that Goes Wrong), Janet Weiss (The Rocky Horror Show), Helena (Midsummer Nights Dream), and Violet (Violet, the Musical).
“I’ve always wanted to be a Disney princess – that’s been the dream, since childhood,” Strandin said Monday. “Being a brunette, always looking up to Belle as a kid. I also think she’s a very strong character; she’s not like all the damsels in distress.”
“She’s very strong and confident and smart,” she said. “It’s just an honor to play her.”
“’Beauty and the Beast’ has been my favorite classic Disney movie since I was a child,” DeFauw said, noting he was in the ensemble in Music Guild’s June 2019 production.
“It was a great time. I loved it; I loved being part of the show,” he said. “Coming to life and everything, and now getting this opportunity, especially for my first professional show is something I’m extremely grateful to be able to do this. And do it also close to home, where I have a lot of support. I am just very, very grateful.”
A past patron of Circa, DeFauw cited “Legally Blonde” and “The Sound of Music” as favorites at the dinner theater.
Challenges of casting
The Beast was harder for Hall to cast than the Beauty. “In my opinion, the height, and things have to complement the girl playing Belle, and also I listen for a specific vocal quality – that not only has the animalistic, infuriated individual and outraged soul, but there’s a human being at the bottom of all this,” he said.
“You have to have both those, which Kyle beautifully gets toward the character,” Hall said. “It’s neat to hear that, because it’s not supposed to be a growl the whole time on stage.”
“Casting is very complex, and when you have a show like this, with very specifics — even in the ensemble,” the director said. “Every little feature is a specific movement.”
Mrs. Potts has to have a “nurturing, motherly quality,” Hall said as an example. “It’s not just about singing it nicely.”
DeFauw has to contend with two different headpieces, and a lot of facial makeup to become the Beast.
“It’s a struggle, but I really enjoy it,” he said, noting it isn’t that hard to sing with his costume.
“It’s very impressive that he still sounds so beautiful with all that on his face,” Strandin said.
Tale as old as time
The classic story tells of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed into his former self. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity.
The Circa cast includes characters include Shelley Walljasper as teapot Mrs. Potts; Bobby Becher as candlestick Lumiere; Tristan Layne Tapscott as grandfather clock Cogsworth; Ashley Becher as feather duster Babette; Elsa Besler as wardrobe Madame de la Grande Bouche; Joe Collins as hateful brute Gaston; T.J. Besler as his ally Lefou; Tom Walljasper as Belle’s inventor father, and the teacup Chip is alternately played by Jack Carslake and Marley Haley).
The show runs through July 16, with performances on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:45 p.m., Sundays at 5:45 p.m., and Wednesday matinées at 1:30 p.m. Pre-show entertainment featuring the theatre’s wait staff the Bootleggers will also precede all performances.
Tickets are $58.55 per person for dinner and show, and $51.73 for matinees. Circa offers discounts for those 60 and older and 18 and under. The theater does not permit children under the age of 4 due to the length of the evening. For reservations or more information, call 309-786-7733, ext. 2, or visit Circa’s website.