BWW Interview: Claire Wilkinson of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Pinewood Bowl

BWW Interview: Claire Wilkinson of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Pinewood Bowl

The Pinewood Bowl in Lincoln, Nebraska has been producing a summer musical every year since 1949. This July, the rural villagers of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will take the stage in Lincoln's outdoors. This family favorite with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Tim Rice and Howard Ashman, was adapted from the animated musical film. Nominated for a plethora of Tony Awards, it did take the win for Best Costumes. According to Claire Wilkinson who plays Belle, this local production will also feature some fantastic costuming. Claire shared her musical theatre background with me and offered her thoughts on Belle, the musical, and what it's like to rehearse at an outdoor venue.

Hi Claire! I understand you moved here from California?

I moved out to California to live with my sister for a year or so. She is working at Stanford right now doing research for autism. She's a lovely human. I love her! She was getting kind of bored without her boyfriend there and my boyfriend was living in New York, so I was like, "Hey, you know what? I might as well go do something while I'm young and still able to travel. So I spent some time in the San Francisco area. I got a job at Trader Joe's. It was the best job I've ever had. I plan on going back to Trader Joe's once I'm done with a few other things. It's a very, very special place to work.

Tell me about your acting, singing, musical theatre experience.

Yeah, so I grew up in a family that was very musical. Not so much my dad's side; mostly my mom's side. My brother convinced me to audition for a show when I was probably six. He's the oldest in our family, so he was doing theatre long before I was. My mom actually grew up doing theatre out in western Nebraska as a teenager, so it runs in my blood. When I was six, I started doing theatre at the Lincoln Community Playhouse. I did shows there until I went to high school. In high school I did just about every show I possibly could. I did three shows each year. And then, after that I went to camps in New York and in Texas where I spent most of my summers doing theatre involved camps. That's where my love for theatre really blossomed.

I have a whole story about my theatre history. I did a TedxYouth Talk here in Lincoln ( I talked about how my theatre experience changed drastically when I was in high school because I started competing against all the other kids who wanted to do exactly what you wanted to do. It was terrifying. But it was very fulfilling for me. I haven't stopped theatre since I was six. I don't think it's anything I will ever stop doing.

What kind of shows did you do at Lincoln Community Playhouse?

Umm, I guess my first show was Tom Sawyer or something like that. I don't remember exactly. I did mostly musicals. I don't think I ever did a straight play at the Playhouse. I love plays, too, but it's the musicals that really draw me to theatre. I did a lot of variety; a lot of kids' shows when I was younger. I played Arthur, the Aardvark, you know, from PBS? I played Arthur in Arthur's Halloween when I was probably 11 or 12. That was a fun role for me! Almost all of the friends I made at the Playhouse are still my friends today. That's very special. It's actually where I met the love of my life. I don't know if you've heard of Next to Normal? I played Natalie and he played Henry. That's when we met and we fell in love. We've been together ever since. That show has a very special place in my heart.

What are rehearsals like at the Pinewood Bowl?

Hot and sweaty! (laughs) Lots of bugs. Bugs, sweat and tears. All the classic stuff. It's a dream! No, it is very special out there. There is something magical and exciting about Pinewood. You get to be outside. Enjoy the fresh air. It's a completely different experience than any other theatre in Lincoln. It's amazing. It draws people back there, myself included. You get the "Pinewood Bug" and you stick with it. After the first show you're hooked!

What can we expect from this production of Beauty and the Beast?

Oh man! We got our costumes for our ensemble members. They are unbelievable! Maralee Maldavs does the work of multiple, multiple angels. It's incredible what she does. To fill a stage that is so big and so vast, our director, Courtney Piccoli, fills that space like nobody's business. It is a true testament to her talent and her dedication to theatre. Our music director is Bill Maltas and stage manager is Emma Louise Waechter.

This production holds a very special place in my heart. What little girl doesn't want to grow up to be a Disney princess? Belle isn't your typical princess. She's not even a princess. She just ends up as one. I'm very excited for this show. Our cast is unbelievable. It's probably one of my favorite casts that I've ever worked with. Sam Ninegar who played the leading man in Legally Blonde last summer is playing Lumiere. His French accent is out of this world! He's a star.

Besides her not being a typical Disney princess, how do you see your character, Belle?

Belle is a lot more than just a hopeless romantic stuck in a fairytale. She represents a lot of young people today: someone looking for more than what their immediate surroundings can offer them. In this day and age we are all oozing for something more to fulfill our souls. To me, Belle is the perfect representation of a happy medium between seeing acceptance and understanding that our differences are what make us strong. She's a heroine to herself first. Then she fights for those she loves. As it is said, "She who is brave is free."

Tickets are available for July 11 - 14 and July 18-21 at 8:00 p.m

Pinewood Bowl Amphitheater, 3201 S Coddington Ave, Lincoln, NE 68522

Photo Credit: Sean Flattery

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