Ordway Center is pulling out all the stops for a holiday offering of "Beauty and the Beast" that also doubles as the St. Paul venue's first homegrown mainstage production since the pandemic hit.
The revival of Disney's Broadway musical stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning movie promises to cast a powerful spell in both heft and splendor and is like a homecoming for audiences and artists, according to producing artistic director Rod Kaats.
"It's an enchanted world with a story that appeals to everybody — kids, teenagers, parents, grandparents," Kaats said. "The combination of humor, warmth, depth, philosophy and romance plus the costuming, period wigs, prosthetics, pyro and special effects makes it one complicated gourmet meal of a show."
The Ordway last produced "Beauty" more than a decade ago. Since then, Broadway tours have landed at the Orpheum Theatre. The musical, composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, also has been produced at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
This Ordway production, which opens Wednesday, has a few surprising connections to Broadway via Utah. Director Michael Heitzman, who wrote songs for the musical "Swing," staged "Beauty" at the outdoor Tuacahn Amphitheatre in southern Utah in May 2021. It was one of the first shows to get the blessing of Actors' Equity, the union of professional actors, as the pandemic raged and ebbed. Kaats flew out to see it, was taken with the staging and began plotting immediately.
"I asked them what they were doing with the set, and they said it was going to be recycled," Kaats recalled. He asked for it, and the costumes, too. The Utah company agreed.
"We have to deliver a spectacular show in the most prudent way we know how, and this makes it possible for us to have more pie at the holidays than anyone can fully eat," Kaats said.
There is "symbiosis" between the productions. The stage in Utah was an 80-foot proscenium while the Ordway is 65 feet. "But in the indoor theater, everything changes," said Heitzman. "We have curtains and fly space."
The shared elements are nice, but this production will have its own unique grandeur, Heitzman continued. For one, the Ordway is a beautiful room in the style of the great opera houses of Europe. And the production is using a passerelle — the semicircular catwalk that extends over the orchestra pit.
"This show is operatic in scale, so we wanted to bring the performers close to the audience," he said.
Heitzman, who staged his reimagined "42nd Street" at the Ordway in 2019, also has tapped a wealth of talent. Rajane Katurah, a Twin Cities performer who recently relocated to New York, will play Belle, a part she could only dream about.
"Growing up, I never saw myself in a role like this — the only Black princess I had was Brandy in 'Cinderella,'" said Katurah. "But there are things I can tap into. Belle's walking around ostracized and marginalized. The stakes are high and I get emotional about it. I'm happy that everyone can see themselves as a princess but, also, it doesn't matter."
"Rajane is fabulous," Heitzman said, adding that she is a perfect fit for the role and there's good chemistry between her and Nathaniel Hackmann, who is making his Ordway debut as the Beast.
If Katurah is a newbie, Hackmann has lived his whole life around the show. He has played the Beast twice, including for 1,100 performances on a national tour. He also has played Gaston six times. And he and his wife have played opposite each other.
"It's a fantastically written show that allows you to discover things about yourself and others," said Hackmann, whose credits also include playing Javert on Broadway in "Les Misérables." "And the message is universal and timeless."
"You see, no pressure, right?" asked Katurah, smiling.
The musical's talent pool also includes Jamecia Bennett, lead vocalist of the Grammy- winning Sounds of Blackness, as Mrs. Potts; T. Mychael Rambo as Belle's father, Maurice; plus Thomasina Petrus, Rush Benson and Max Wojtanowicz as assorted principals.
Just before a rehearsal in mid-November, it was announced that musical supervisor David Holcenberg had snagged a Grammy nomination for his work on "MJ, the Musical."
Even though the Disney movie came out 30 years ago, he said the show is timeless. He wanted it to speak to a contemporary audience musically and make it "current and now."
"Although it doesn't have a ton of songs, with underscoring, the music carries you," Holcenberg added.
For Kaats, "Beauty," and the celebration it engenders, is salve for our times, even as the show embodies a metaphor of survival and resilience.
"We're coming out of COVID and so many of the characters in the show are coming out of a state of being objects," said Kaats. "Like the objects in the show, everybody gets to be human again."
'Beauty and the Beast'
What: Composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Michael Heitzman.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 5 p.m. Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sun. Ends Dec. 31.
Where: Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul.
Tickets: $41-$133.50. 651-224-4222 or Ordway.org.