SUMMERSIDE – As someone who’s not particularly fond of dancing, singing or speaking in public, Justin Brown may seem like an unlikely actor for musical theatre.
Perhaps that explains why he nearly didn’t audition for a role in the upcoming production of “Beauty and the Beast” at Harbourfront Theatre.
Brown’s sisters were trying out for the Fandango Musical Players’ production, when they called their brother at home to tell him he’d better show up.
Turns out they were right – the show’s producers cast Brown in the role of the Beast.
“Once they called and offered me the role of the Beast, I was like, ‘You can’t really turn that down,’” said the 22-year-old West Prince resident.
“It’s a huge honour and I really do enjoy doing musical theatre.”
Fandango, a non-profit musical theatre and choral company, would eventually cast more than 40 roles for the production, most from the Prince County area.
Three Oaks Senior High carpentry and automotive students are helping with construction and rigging for the complex set design. All told, “Beauty and the Beast” has had input from more than 100 people.
The play is produced by Margo Thompson and directed by Shirley-Anne Cameron, with musical direction by Tanya Bernard.
Thompson said the fact that so many Islanders are involved in, or raised funds for the production is a true form of community theatre.
“We did ‘A Christmas Carol’ (in 2010) and I thought that was a lot of work. This is three times the work,” she laughed. “Probably every cast member has at least two costume changes, if not three. The fundraising started and we were pulling our hair out thinking, ‘We may not get there.’ But the Summerside community is very, very generous. It was really heartwarming.”
Thompson and Cameron travelled to Toronto over the summer to see that city’s production of “Beauty and the Beast,” from which many of the Summerside shows sets and costumes are based.
Fandango was also able to secure the rights to the Disney’s Broadway version of the script, so fans of the cartoon won’t be disappointed at Harbourfront.
Melissa MacKenzie, 17, who plays Belle, started performing musical theatre productions in high school. She’s since been a part of the Confederation Centre of the Arts’ musical “The Sound of Music.”
But even for someone who’s well versed in musicals, MacKenzie’s eyes still light up when she talks about playing Belle.
“It’s so awesome. It really is a dream come true,” she said. “Every little girl wants to be a princess, and I get the opportunity to be one on stage for five shows. There’s just nothing like it.”
Brown also began his career in musical theatre while attending TOSH, auditioning on a whim for Cameron’s production of “Footloose.”
He wasn’t in costume at a recent dress rehearsal for “Beauty and the Beast” because the appearance of the Beast is being closely guarded, even from Brown.
“The Beast is one of those secrets that even I’m not very well informed about. It’s all going to be a surprise to the public, can’t give anything away on it,” he said. “As far as the character, there’s the emotional depth and, especially in the beginning, there’s the aggression. Being aggressive is easy for me – it’s being emotional that takes a conscious effort and skill.”
Regardless, “Beauty and the Beast” promises plenty of fun, big musical numbers like “Be Our Guest,” and lost of scene stealing from the actors involved.
It runs on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 6, 7 and 8 at Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside.
“I can’t even put it into words,” said MacKenzie. “It’s love, it’s joy. Come out and see it!”
Just the facts
The Fandango Musical Players’ production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ runs on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 6, 7 and 8 at Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside. All show times are 7:30 p.m.
Directed by Shirley Anne Cameron, produced by Margo Thomas, musical direction by Tanya Bernard, props by Katie Brown
Cast of more than 40, most from the Prince County area, includes adults, high-school age and younger.
Stars: Melissa MacKenzie (Belle), Justin Brown (the Beast), Steve Bruce (Gaston), Adam-Michael James (Lumiere), Sandra McNeill (Mrs. Potts), Peter Surkan (Cogsworth), Ken Arsenault (Maurice)