BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at ZAO THEATRE Gives us a Show That's Roughly the Size of a Barge
When it comes to theatre and Disney fans alike, the stage production of Beauty and the Beast is a staple. For many a performer, the chance to personify the characters we've grown up with is a lifelong dream, envisioning our selves dawning the gown, the fur and claws, or not so reluctantly beating on our friends. When shows like these come to life, patrons are drawn to the nostalgia and get the chance to leave with the feeling of seeing it fresh and new. This is all due to amazing casts and crews, committed to giving us the magic that we the theatre-goers deserve to the best of their abilities, as they would do with any other show. Zao Theatre's production of Beauty and the Beast brought the nostalgia, along with adding a few fresh touches that kept audience members like myself feeling as if it were our first time seeing the classic. As well, I had the opportunity to get a peek into the process through my interview with Zao's very own Gaston, Zac Bushman.
When you enter Zao theatre, you are immediately taken aback by the astonishing set. Set Designer Mike Sanders along with his team consisting of Director Mickey Bryce, David Stewart, and Adam Gobeski did an amazing job immersing the audience into this little town in a quiet village. Bob Nelson's Lighting Design and Mickey Bryce's Media Design were both nice additions to an otherwise stunning set. A few of the projection elements pulled me a bit out of moments, such as a transformation moment toward the end. However, the overall experience was another example of great visual usage by Zao. When the band begins, the room is filled with memory provoking sound. An orchestra lead by C.J. Ohara is ever lacking the ability to disappoint audiences as he pours himself into each beat he conducts. You are then taken over by a tidal wave of an ensemble. An impressive 51 ensemble members grace the Zao stage for this production, which initially brought up the question of why. As I stew in my doubt of a reason for so many people on stage, only summing it up to simple spectacle, I find myself later in awe of the amazingness Director, Mickey Bryce and Choreographer, Laura Christian bring when pairing their sizable ensemble with a powerhouse of leading players.
I had the chance to speak with Zac Bushman, who played the more than exceptionally muscle-bound, excellent expectorator, and antler décor enthusiast known as Gaston. Zac was able to give me the inside scoop at Zao and the phenomenal cast and crew of Beauty and the Beast. After introductions, we touched on the process at this theatre to get an idea of how much work get's put into their productions.
Tell our readers a bit about yourself.
Zac- I'm 26, been doing theater for about 6 years and singing my whole life. I hope to be performing for a living by the end of next year! I look to be a people pleaser in all that I do and try to make life's story a bit more exciting.
From what I've heard, you've done this show a few times before?
Zac- Yeah, this is my second time doing the show. The first time I did it was with Mesa Encore Theatre in March 2018. I played Gaston both times.
With having experienced this show now for the second time, what becomes of your personal rehearsal process? Do you still have to go over lines and learn your songs over again?
Zac- Most of the lines were still in my brain. I just had to go over them to refresh. Most of the rehearsal process was spent adding funny/creepy moments with LeFou, Tyler Galley, and D'Arque, Robert Andrews.
Zao seems to be in a constant state of growth. It seems like the production and performance quality gets better with every show I've attended. From an insiders' standpoint, how does the rehearsal process work there? Break it down for those of us that may be looking for another place to perform.
Zac- Mickey is fairly consistent with his rehearsal times. He very rarely keeps people late. Most of the time he even dismisses actors early. We rehearse Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights and Saturday mornings for about two or three hours each time. Under the direction of Mickey Bryce, Laura Christian, and CJ OHara we are without fail, doing full run-throughs a week before tech week. This has been the case for all three shows I have done with this combination of artists: Ragtime in 2017, Hunchback of Notre Dame in 2018, and now Beauty and The Beast. Throughout the actual rehearsals, the actors are left alone quite a bit to work on their scenes and choreography while the director, choreographer, or music director works with a small group or even a solo actor or actress.
Would you say that differs from other theatres in the valley?
Zac- It doesn't a whole bunch. Very few community theaters are perfect at only calling actors when needed.
Without giving all your secrets away, what can we expect from your Gaston?
Zac- Gaston in this production is looking to show you exactly why he is so full of himself.
Do you feel similar or polar opposite to your character of Gaston?
Zac- Honestly, very opposite. But that is what makes him such a fun character to play. I get to say and do things that I would never do or say in real life and then laugh about it, and the villagers love me for it. It's wild.
Through our interview, we were able to dig deeper into a few of the powerhouse performers he was able to perform alongside. I applaud Mickey Bryce for bringing together such a cohesive group of leads and ensemble. Becca Bryce is the embodiment of a true Disney Princess. Belle is typically seen as graceful and poised, yet strong-willed and diligent and Becca did not disappoint. Paired with her magnificent voice, Becca flawlessly checks all the boxes.
Zac- Becca Bryce is a powerhouse to act with. She has a gorgeous voice and is such a thrill to share the stage with. She even made all her dresses herself!
Zac brings greatness when it comes to congealing the leads with chemistry. Becca makes Zac the character we can easily dislike, with their later run in revealing who the true "beast" of the show is. However, Zac's charisma and added quips keep you attracted. Zac avoids comedic buffoonery by staying true to Gaston, adding more depth and character development rather than laughable moments. His connection with Tyler Galley as LeFou is phenomenal. Their characters build off each other beautifully. Tyler is astoundingly electric and easily could be the reincarnation of LeFou. Without being distracting or upstaging his counterparts, Tyler brings the passion, comedic timing, and acting prowess needed, making it easy to tell that he lives to play this character
Zac- Tyler Galley is a hoot! He is so high energy and always willing to try new bits and ways for Gaston to hurt LeFou. He is a natural performer who gives so much to this performance.
The Beast played by Adam Guinn was exceptional. His take on the character seemed to pull more toward a comedic approach, allowing for a more humanely relatable beast despite being claw clad. His choices didn't read as well in the beginning with his run-in with Maurice, played by Daniel Marburger. However, as he and Belle's chemistry and banter progress, so does the fur-covered character of a prince.
Priscilla Bertling and Zacary Nelson melt the audience's hearts as Mrs. Potts and Chip. The pair make for the cutest mother and son moments, gifting the audiences with the lovableness these two naturally posses together. Benjermin Tietz, Matt Snell, and Brianne Gobeski were a great Trio as Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Babette, shining through as always in their respective performances. Between Benjermin and Matt, I did find myself wanting more solidification as far as accent work. However, their acting and energy overshadowed those wants. The Silly Girls, played by Punawai Abang, Alicia Ferrin, Ashley Letizia, Calli Rasmussen, and Emily Walter, were hysterical, building upon the comedy as a unit, without a moment of upstaging each other, unless called for of course. The large ensembles dance sequences were a phenomenal spectacle thanks to Choreographer Laura Christian creating moments to audibly gasp at in songs like "Gaston" and "Be Our Guest". The same could easily be said about the Fight Choreography lead by Alexander Hansen bringing the excitement to the mob's attack on the castle. My only quarrel with this production is the quality of sound. Many times throughout the show we miss small solos and great group vocal moments mostly notable in songs like "The Mob" and "Belle". As well, the Orchestra seemed to overpower the vocal, which felt to be more about the balance of sound in the venue. Although these qualms were worth mentioning, they did not diminish the quality of the show and were not a consistent issue.
It is no wonder Zao Theatre is becoming a destination for patrons and performers alike. Any place that continues to provide and demand quality and respect for the craft will continue to flourish. Every production I have attended at this theatre has exponentially proven that to be true and has left me, and I'm sure many others, famished for the next. Beauty and the Beast is no exception and is definitely a must-see.
Beauty and the Beast runs until November 23rd at Zao Theatre:
550 South Ironwood Drive, Apache Junction, Arizona, 85120
Tickets can be purchased at https://www.zaotheatre.com/
photos by Wade Moran