World Under Wonder is presenting its own original “steampunk inspired” version of the old fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” on Aug. 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 18 at 2 p.m. at their playhouse, the former Grange Hall they are renovating, at 5755 Route 5 in Ascutney.
“Beauty and the Beast” is known to most of us from two Disney films. One was an animated version in 1991 that inspired a Broadway musical version, and a second more recently in 2017 with live actors. There were a number of other film versions such as a French one directed by Jean Cocteau in 1946 that inspired a French opera by Philip Glass in 1994. All these versions were inspired by a French fairy tale by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740. Some scholars relate the story line to fairy tales going much farther back. No matter what the inspiration, it has been an often told story.
This original World Under Wonder version is written by the theater’s Executive Director Sean Edward Roberts. He said, “Beauty and the Beast was my favorite Disney movie growing up. I identified with the Beast for being odd, an outcast, a strange being in a world full of people that would hurt him as soon as see him. I also just loved the music and the idea of realizing beauty is more than what you see.”
Roberts’ version appears to be unique in its use of a “steampunk” theme. He said, “This version of the show has come into existence due to a conversation over dinner between myself, my wife Kimm Johnson, and our mutual friend Marit Bjerkadal. We talked about how I wanted to do Beauty and the Beast, and they pushed saying we should do the show with steampunk costumes. I told them Disney would never allow a big physical change like that to the show, so they told me to write my own... so I did.”
This is perhaps appropriate to, but not part of, the Steampunk Festival in September in Springfield, Vermont and the Connecticut River Valley’s historic golden age that corresponds to the steampunk era. Director Samantha Maskell, who is also artistic director of World Under Wonder, said, “We’re putting an original twist to it… All our folk tales start with ‘once upon a time.’ You don’t just slap gears on it and say it's steam punk. The story gives it a purpose.”
Maskell said that Roberts composed the music and created the concept, but she has created the narrative, told principally through dance and music. “We are doing movement in a way that tells the story.”
She said the production has “probably less than 12 spoken words.” The rest is contemporary and interpretive ballet along with singing open vowels, all integrated with numerous technical effects and projections. The effect is enhanced by intricate costuming that is a mix of steampunk and ethereal. Maskell said, “The good fairy embellishes everything with magic, and the ethereal comes to life.”
The classic story is about a young woman in a provincial town and a beast that is really a prince under the spell of an enchantress. If the beast can learn to love and be loved he will be a prince again. If not he and his household will be doomed, and time is running out. Though Maskell said it is “truly an original version from beginning to end” the original story is there. Websters defines “fairy tale” as “a narrative of adventures involving fantastic forces and beings (as fairies, wizards, and goblins),” and it does have that. The cast of almost 20 has good and evil fairies. Websters defines a fable as “a narration intended to enforce a useful truth.” And it has that as well. Maskell said that the Prince is cursed, people are constantly plundering their environment, and the evil fairy has her forest burned down. Maskell said, “She’s evil, but it’s complicated.”
Kimm Johnson, who plays the part said, “I always enjoy playing darker parts. I like to think of her as misunderstood.”
In this story the magic makes some of the actors become household objects. Beauty’s mother trespasses and the pin chushion takes care of her in the castle. Gina Richardson, who plays the pin cushion said, “Playing Pin Cushion is a great endeavor with physicality and playfulness. She demonstrates more a nurturing, ‘mother like’ behavior which I enjoy portraying and is part of my nature anyway. Seeing how Pin Cushion will actually come to life is very exciting. The costuming and make-up, not just for Pin Cushion but for the entire cast will be breathtaking.”
Rebecca Austin plays a queen, mother of the Beast, and also the stove. She said she is more excited about playing the stove and has “a really cool idea about how to play it.” Danie Salvin, who plays the adoptive mother and is stage manager of the large cast and tech crew, said it’s, “something different trying to balance it all,” but it has “definitely been fun.”
Fairy tales are said to be for children. Roberts said, “I believe young children will be entertained and enjoy the movement and music involved in the production.”
Johnson said, “I think the relationships that form will be the big way in which they relate, there are several different types portrayed in this show.”
The production is choreographed by Roberts and Israel Cavanaugh. Carole Cronce is performing and directing the music. Maskell said there is “a lot of collaborative work leading up to the final production. People are putting in a lot of time to make it something special. Tickets are available through email@example.com ,or by calling (603)381 – 3344, or by messaging on the World Uder Wonder Facebook page.