By May S. Ruiz
There’s dancing, singing, magic, and comedy, with audience interaction mixed in. It’s ‘Beauty and the Beast – a Christmas Rose’ and it’s happening at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Lythgoe Family Panto (LFP), in association with the Pasadena Playhouse, presents the world premiere of an updated version of this classic fairy tale in the style of the time-honored British family Panto from December 13 to 24, 2017.
‘Beauty and the Beast – A Christmas Rose’ stars Kelli Berglund (Disney XD’s ‘Lab Rats’) as Belle; Jonah Platt (Broadway’s ‘Wicked’) as the Beast; James Snyder (Broadway’s ‘If/Then’) as Gus; Gedde Watanabe (Broadway’s ‘Pacific Overtures’ and John Hughes’s ‘Sixteen Candles’) as Marcel; Harrison White (Broadway’s ‘The Lion King’) as Dame Chanel; John Tartaglia (Broadway’s ‘Shrek, The Musical’) as Louis Vuitton; and Jared Gertner (Broadway’s ‘The Book of Mormon’) as Pierre.
With the casting of Kelli Berglund, the Lythgoes continue their tradition of featuring breakout young talent. Their past Panto performances at the Playhouse featured notables including Ariana Grande and Jordan Fisher, who recently starred in ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway.
Berglund, understandably, is immensely delighted. She states, “Belle has always been a favorite of mine. What I love about fairy tale princesses is that they all have a reputation for showing strength and will to overcome the greatest of odds. I think Belle’s story is unique, and perhaps one of the best examples of how defiance and authenticity from the heart can work together.”
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to find true love,” explains Berglund. “It’s one of her dreams. And wouldn’t we all desire that? However, her relationship with the Beast is one that no other princess encounters. He’s not the knight in shining armor nor the man with the greased hair and a perfect smile.
There’s a storyline, connection, and even tension that’s more than skin deep … which shows that Belle truly looks at others from the inside out. Maybe it’s her fantastic grasp on the feelings that come from both her head and her heart. It’s real.
Playing this character who is familiar and beloved not only by children, but adults as well, was intimidating and challenging as it was fun. She is, after all, a big character to live up to! With the pressure to portray her in the best way possible, there has to come a lightheartedness throughout the entire process. In the end, it’s still a fairytale and still a show to put a smile on people’s faces. And, hopefully, a smile on mine, too.”
While Berglund’s background is mostly television, she is not entirely on strange territory. She discloses, “I did a bit of stage musicals when I was younger. To be totally honest, though, it’s been a while. But what’s interesting is that all the elements that go into something like this – acting, dancing, singing – I’m extremely familiar with and have a love for.”
Berglund wonders out loud, “I’ve asked myself why I haven’t done more stage work, and I think it’s because film and television are where my path has taken me, thus far. I did choir all throughout my school years and have worked with several voice coaches on various projects that involved a bit of singing.
Working with the musical director on this production, Michael Orland, has helped me gain confidence and skill when it comes to singing. Plus, I’ve had the opportunity to work with vocal coach Eric Vetro, one of the best in the biz! It’s quite the honor to be part of this. And stepping outside my comfort zone is unexplainably overwhelming in the best way.”
“This show also has a lot of dancing integrated into it,” Berglund adds. “One of my greatest, if not my greatest, strengths is dance. We’re working with the amazing choreographer, Mandy Moore, who has really made every movement in this production special. She has a creative eye for the small details that make the bigger picture look absolutely perfect. Knowing that I have dance background, she’s integrated it all throughout each song.”
“The hugest difference from my previous work is the pace at which things operate. Television, and especially film, are both a game of ‘hurry up and wait’. What I’ve learned is that in theater, it’s simply ‘hurry up!’. It’s definitely a nice change. Still getting used to dialogue being said five times faster and five times as dramatic than usual, but I’m catching on!”, Berglund laughs.
A Panto presentation involves more physicality than other productions and Berglund is up to the challenge. She reveals, “Luckily, I’ve seen a Panto performance so I knew what I was getting myself into! I saw my friend, Olivia Holt, play Sleeping Beauty a few years back, and if I could have summed up that performance in one word, I’d say FUN! And experiencing it myself now, everything has led up to that word completely.”
“This is my first Panto performance and with the fun comes a lot of required energy. It takes stamina and adrenaline to keep you going. Dancing and singing at the same time is NOT easy … I don’t know how all the pop stars do it. Props to them!” Berglund states in awe.
Berglund says of Epps, “Sheldon is wonderful to work with. He knows exactly what he’s talking about since he has quite the experience in theater. At the same time, though, he’s very open to how we all see our characters. One of the first things he said to me was that it was very obvious how determined and strong I was making Belle from the very start. We’ve discussed how great it is that these qualities are present … at the same time there are moments of vulnerability and fear, something we don’t ever see from Belle.”
‘Beauty and The Beast – A Christmas Rose’ does not follow the traditional story in exact detail,” concludes Berglund. “To people who know and love the story, there will still be an element of surprise with the characters and the direction in which the story goes. I will say the set and costumes are absolutely BEAUTIFUL. These are definitely components the audience will find both appealing and interesting. Plus, it’s interactive so the show is great for the kids. There are some hilarious modern-day jokes, and everyone in the audience can sing along to contemporary songs they’ve heard on the radio.”
For Berglund, playing Belle is a wonderful Christmas present – a dream come true. For its audience, ‘Beauty and the Beast – a Christmas Rose’ takes us back once more to our childhood, when this season meant miracles do happen and fervent wishes are granted.