A pantomime rendition of Beauty and the Beast takes the Asparagus Community Theatre stage Dec. 6-15. (Photo submitted)

A pantomime rendition of Beauty and the Beast takes the Asparagus Community Theatre stage Dec. 6-15. (Photo submitted)

Armstrong pantomime reinvents French fairy tale

Asparagus Community Theatre presents Beauty and the Beast Dec. 6-15

This isn’t Walt Disney’s rendition of the classic French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.

When Paul Kirkwood-Hackett sits in the Asparagus Community Theatre director’s chair, he takes the traditional tale and pushes it through a unique lens. And, with the Dec. 6 opening night fast approaching, Kirkwood-Hackett said they’re now in the crunch time.

“This is a pantomime, a traditional British pantomime,” Kirkwood-Hackett said. “We really turned it on its head so to speak.”

Written by Dawn Cairns, this rendition of Beauty and the Beast blends traditional plot elements with classic British pantomime slapstick mainstays. Expect hilarity, talking animals, ugly dame sisters played by men and, of course, the handsome prince played by a woman, the Beast and Belle.

New to Asparagus Community Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast is the addition of the evil witch Grimelza, played by Sheila William, and her sidekicks Snivel and Snide (Joseph Taylor and Beth Fitzpatrick) whose dastardly attempts to interrupt the union between the Beast and Belle (Haley Burt) are derailed to comedic intrigue.

“The audience is encouraged to participate. That is by hissing and booing at the bad guys and cheering on the good guys,” Kirkwood-Hackett said and noted that cast will take some questions from the audience. “It adds to the audience participation. It’s the traditional way to do it in England.”

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Kirkwood-Hackett – an Asparagus Community Theatre warhorse with productions like James and the Giant Peach, On Golden Pond and Goodnight Disgrace under his belt – is joined by fellow Asparagus veteran music director Todd York who left his mark on Always…Patsy Cline, Ethan Claymore and Winnie the Pooh.

“(It’s) a lot of fun. When I first was casting it, the young people were kind of like, ‘Huh?’ This wasn’t the traditional Beauty and the Beast they saw Disney produce. But, they bought into it and really have fun,” Kirkwood-Hackett said.

Young people are at the helm of the 27-member cast, Kirkwood-Hackett said, with many up-and-coming performers taking on lead roles. Beyond the performers themselves, Kirkwood-Hackett said there are a lot of moving parts in this slapstick comedy.

Music permeates the entire production. Classic ditties like Thank You for Being A Friend, Nine to Five and Bad to the Bone line the score as classically-trained pianist Kelly Martwig delivers the keys alongside York’s SoundWave jazz choir-honed vocals.

“There’s hundreds of hour that goes into behind the scenes,” Kirkwood-Hackett said and noted the estimated 112 lighting queues.

And, with only eight weeks of preparation, that means a lot of late nights and overtime for the cast and crew.

“It takes a lot. It’s been a big production,” Kirkwood-Hackett said. “We’re getting pretty excited to start, but it’s that last push.”

Beauty and the Beast runs Dec. 6 to Dec. 9 and Dec. 12 to Dec. 15 with 7:30 p.m. performances and a matinee Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at The Guy Next Door, 250-546-0950. Tickets are $20 adult, $18 seniors and students and $10 for children 12-and-under.


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