Saint Vincent Summer Theatre invites you to be its guest for ‘Beauty and the Beast’
Actor Erika Strasburg says that of all the Disney princesses, Belle is one of the strongest.
“I love that she isn’t a ‘damsel in distress,’ but a smart, strong, independent woman who doesn’t change herself to appeal to a man,” she says. “She falls in love with someone’s character rather than their looks. And she stands up to bullies. All of those characteristics are what make her a beauty to me, and I’m so excited to step into her shoes.”
Strasburg, a Bucks County native and drama graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, takes on the role of Belle in Saint Vincent Summer Theatre’s production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” The musical, directed by Greggory Brandt, producing artistic director of the Equity theater company and professor at Saint Vincent College, runs June 27-July 7.
“This has been a dream role of mine since I was 4 years old,” Strasburg says. “‘Beauty and the Beast’ was the first Broadway show I ever saw and there are moments of it I can still see perfectly in my mind.”
For the actor who has performed with Pittsburgh CLO (“Titanic,” “Up and Away” and “A Musical Christmas Carol”), Pittsburgh Public Theater (“Hamlet”) and Mountain Playhouse (“One Slight Hitch”), her biggest challenge with portraying Belle will be living up to such an iconic character.
“She is a timeless classic and a female hero to so many; I really want to do her justice,” she says.
Storybook characters come to life
The princess is only one of the storybook characters that come to life in the musical production. Strasburg says “the heart and fun in all of them is so evident – it’s easy to fall in love with them.”
They include Lumiere, the Beast’s maître d’ turned into a candelabra by the wicked Enchantress, played by Tim Hartman; Cogsworth, the Beast’s chief of staff turned into a pendulum clock (Robert Anthony Jones) and Maurice, Belle’s father (David Cabot).
Hartman says performing in the show, especially in the popular musical number, “Be Our Guest,” is a real joy for him.
“Lumiere is a very positive, joyful character,” he says. “He exemplifies ‘joie de vivre’, he loves life. It’s the contrast of his optimism against his obvious longing to be human again that makes him more than just a comic character.”
His biggest challenge with portraying his character is “holding my arms up all the time. Those candlesticks need to stay upright!”
Hartman has performed on Broadway in “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Finian’s Rainbow” and in many regional theater productions, including for Pittsburgh CLO and Pittsburgh Musical Theater. He also has done television and movie roles, including for “The Mothman Prophecies” and “Silence of the Lambs.”
In “Beauty and the Beast,” he says that “you can’t deny how wonderful the music is, and there’s something universal about wanting to be ‘better’ in this life. Nearly every character yearns deeply to be more than they are, or accepted for who they truly are.”
Jones also deals with a physical challenge with his clock costume in his role as Cogsworth.
“I’ve done the role before and both times it was an enormous clock that I needed two people to take off me in order to sit down,” he says. Besides the music and the vibrant colors and costumes in the musical, “Beauty and the Beast” is a show with “so much heart, laughs and conflict. It’s got everything for a classic love story.”
He also acted in “Finding Neverland” and “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway and was in “La Cage Aux Folles” at Virginia Musical Theatre.
Cabot is happy to be back at Saint Vincent Summer Theatre — “a little slice of heaven” — and performing in his first Disney musical.
“The trickiest thing for me is the singing. I trained as a classical actor and not as a musical theater person, so I am a little intimidated by all of the great musicians I will be on stage with,” he says.
The preview performance of “Beauty and the Beast” is on June 27 with $15 general admission seating; the June 28 gala performance is sold out.
The original Broadway production ran for more than 13 years and was nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.