‘Beauty’: Revamped Henegar’s fitting first attraction

It’s fitting that “Beauty and the Beast” should be the first show of an entire Henegar season run by its new keepers from Titusville Playhouse.

The 1994 Disney musical, in which a beautiful young woman wins the heart of a lonely Beast, has at its core the theme of transformation. And the Henegar Center itself certainly has the same.

For instance, watch the musical unfold in all its colorful, romantic glory, and you might realize that you are enjoying it in new, wider and more comfortable seating.

Listen to Kristen Olson, who as Belle sings “A Change in Me,” and you are hearing it in all its gorgeous tones thanks to a completely new sound system designed by sound engineers. Moreover, the old sound “booth” has been moved from the back of the orchestra seating to inside the lighting booth. And, special acoustic tiles have been added to the newly painted walls.

Lavishing not only the main and orchestra lobbies is the theme of “Be Our Guest,” led on stage by Jordyn Linkous as Lumiere, and featuring Carrie Roberts as Mrs. Potts, Rob Landers as Cogsworth, Jocelyn Evans as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Ethan Pucylowski as Chip, Dani Montalvo as Babette and other Enchanted Objects.

Season subscription holders are invited into the club atmosphere of what was once the downstairs reception area. There, they will find shorter lines and faster service by two bartenders. Non-subscription patrons can get drinks at two bars, one in the downstairs hallway and another on the second floor.

Children and avid fans of the story of beautiful young Belle, the Beast, and singing and dancing kitchen ware, can bring home more than memories of the show thanks to a new gift shop carved out of old office space in the downstairs hallway. There are “Beauty and the Beast” T-shirts, roses, “Chip’s Grey Stuff” and more.

In all, about $125,000 was spent in the month before the show opened. The money used was the proceeds from the Henegar’s recent productions of “West Side Story” and “Rent” as well as proceeds from the summer children’s programming, said Doug Lebo, Henegar board president.

What thrills director Niko Stamos the most, though, has been the purchase of a new sound system.

“We made enough money to get speakers sooner than expected,” Stamos said. “The top priority was getting new acoustic tiles in. ‘Carrie’ closed Aug. 4 and we started Aug. 5. Nate (Dobson), Spencer (Crosswell) and I struck everything from the audience. Then they began ripping things out.”

Craig Beyrooti, a professional sound designer/engineer who specializes in tuning a room, and his cousin, professional sound designer Trevor Peters, worked together to give the Henegar a pristine acoustic quality.

They installed 24 new speakers – arrays of speakers in the center and on both sides over the stage, more speakers on the wall, three under the balcony and six above the balcony. The old fill speakers were recalibrated to work in concert with all the new speakers and now help fill in the gaps, adding richness, fullness and clarity to both music and spoken word.

“I am so proud of the Henegar renovations,” said Tina Marie Murray of Melbourne. “Quite a feat in Brevard County to make money for progress in the arts. I have seen many versions of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and the set and especially the costumes were a remarkable achievement.”

So, yes, there has been a magical transformation. Again, that fits with a theme and plot point in “Beauty and the Beast.”

And when it came, it took Murray’s breath away.

“I may have teared up,” she said. “It was beautiful.”

The transformation sequence featuring Kyle McDonald as the Beast, was created by Titusville Playhouse along with renowned kinetic sculptor Daniel Wurtzel, who uses air from fans and lightweight material to make magical moments. Wurtzel has had installations around the world including those at the Tate Modern, Bordeaux Opera House and the Sochi Winter Olympics (the paper tornado). He was the one who created the fantastical glitter transformation scene in “Finding Neverland” on Broadway.

For “Beauty and the Beast,” Wurtzel’s assistant, Rogerio Lopes, used six fans and diaphanous material to create the magic.

“It is such a stunning moment,” Stamos said.

Not that the show has not had its challenges.

It opened on the Friday after Hurricane Dorian passed. Two crucial “tech rehearsals” had to be canceled. Tech rehearsals are when the backstage crew and people running lights and sound work with the actors to make sure all the elements come together as intended.

“It’s a pleasure working with this group,” Stamos said. “With all we had to go through, they were real troopers. On tech week, they all showed up, prepared for whatever was to come.”

Indeed, while staff, crew and actors were busy trying to make up for lost time, the Henegar’s board of directors rolled their sleeves up and patched seats, mopped hallways and cleaned the theater.

Still, though, opening night was not quite up to Stamos’ standards. In addition to typical opening night aggravations like early cues or sudden issues with costumes, the biggest problem was during a scenic shift. The large castle, which is 25 feet wide and 10 feet deep, was being moved by four people trying to get it onto its marks in time to the music. But it got stuck on a scrim, an open-weave drop used for special lighting effects. Ironically, the incident happened when Belle was singing “Something There.”

“It got hooked on it and turned in middle of the scene,” Stamos said. “We were able to get it unhooked and the audience applauded when it completed the turn. (The actors) handled it like champs.”

So he called a special tech rehearsal for Saturday afternoon to make sure the cast of 22, 15 of whom join the five stage hands to move the show along backstage, knew exactly what they needed to do to make scene changes smooth.

“At the end of the day, stepping into the lobby and hearing how excited people were about all the changes and the show, it reminds you why we do what we do and how theater really does have this ability to take people on a journey, escape and be part of a community,” Stamos said.

“It’s interesting that we are opening with ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ The show has a song, ‘A Change in Me,’ where Belle sings about finding a new home and new life. That’s what we all hope for with this new venture … a new life, a new beginning.”

“Beauty and the Beast” runs through Sept. 22 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $19 to $29. Call 321-723-8698 or visit Henegar.org.

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