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Timeless tale comes to Empire Theater in Grand Forks

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“A tale as old as time” will come to life on stage next week in Grand Forks.

The Empire Theater Co. will present the beloved classic, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” in a two-week run beginning Tuesday at the Empire Arts Center. The show launches the company’s seventh season.

“It was one of my favorite Disney movies as a kid,” local Director Chris Berg. “The message is classic: don’t judge people.”   

The story is well-known to film audiences, but the stage version “takes a different spin on it, which I think is really fun,” Berg said.

The production is “big, very stylish, very broad,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

The audience will enjoy the differences they may notice between stage and film versions, including “the different look in costumes,” most of which were rented from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Berg said.   

But “the core of the show is always there,” he said.

We kept the classic look of Belle, in blue and gold,” he noted.

The audience “will enjoy seeing something familiar, and seeing it as live action,” Berg said.

“And you can bring the kids, which is always great,” he added.

Because the show is “filled with beloved songs, like ‘Tale as Old as Time,’ it’s a musical treat for the whole family,” said Mackenzie Teepen, communications coordinator for the Empire Arts Center.

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” was adapted from Walt Disney Pictures’ Academy Award-winning 1991 animated musical film of the same name, which in turn had been based on the classic French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.  

The show ran on Broadway from 1994 to 2007, becoming Broadway’s tenth longest-running production in history. The musical has grossed more than $1.4 billion worldwide and has played in 13 countries and 115 cities.

The show tells the story of Belle, a beautiful, bright and independent young French woman.  

Belle’s attempt to rescue her imprisoned father leads to her capture by the Beast, a cold-blooded prince who was given his hideous form by an enchantress as punishment for his selfish ways.

The only way for the Beast to become human again is if he learns to love and be loved in return before the last petals of his magical rose fall.

Members of his enchanted household -- whom the enchantress slowly turns into inanimate objects -- watch anxiously to see if the couple will fall in love before it’s too late.   

‘Very talented cast’

Berg has marshaled the talents of 32 cast and crew members from the area for this show.

“I have a very, very talented cast of singers, actors and dancers,” he said.

Many faces will be familiar to those who’ve attended past Empire productions, he said.   

Playing lead roles are Daniella Lima as Belle, Seth Cline as the Beast, Christopher Knutson as Belle’s suitor Gaston and Mark Diers as Maurice, Belle’s father.

Other performers are Darin Kerr as Cogswell, Maura Ferguson as Mrs. Potts, Alex Kleven as Lumiere, Nicque Robinson-Dela Cruz as Babette the Featherduster and Mirko Drago as Chip Potts.

Diers, whom many will remember as Tevye, the father in last spring’s Fire Hall production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” said his fellow cast members “are fantastic -- very very talented; Belle, Gaston and the Beast are wonderful to watch, very energetic.”

The audience “will enjoy the show a lot,” Diers said.

The banter between Cogswell, who, under the enchantress’ spell, slowly becomes a clock, and Lumiere, who’s transforming into a candelabra, is rib-tickling.

“Every day you get a little more tightly wound,” Lumiere needles his friend in a thick French accent. “A little more ticked off.”

Mrs. Potts, head of the kitchen, becomes a teapot, and her son, Chip, becomes a teacup with a small crack on the rim.

“Lumiere’s wax starts to burn down,” Berg said, “and the Featherduster gets more feathers.”

The transformation is a departure from the movie, in which the characters are already objects.

Creative team

The set has been “simplified,” Berg said, adding, “the story stands on its own, and people will suspend their disbelief.”

Other members of his creative team include music director Amanda LeFloch, choreographer Patrick Kasper, stage manager Maddie Sharpe, assistant stage manager Walter Criswell, costumer Amy Lyste, set designer Chris Olsen, sound designer Tyler Smith and light designer Cedar Remmen.

Other Empire productions for this season include “Scrooge in Rouge,” “Next to Normal” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

If you go

What: “Disney Beauty and the Beast”

Who: Presented by the Empire Theatre Co.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Aug. 11 and Aug. 14-18

Where: Empire Arts Center, 415 DeMers Ave.

Tickets: $24 for adults, $20 for students and military, and $16 for children 10 and younger. Purchase tickets weekdays at (701) 746-5500 or visit www.empireartscenter.com.

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