A THING OF BEAUTY

Aside from receiving glowing critical reviews, PCPA Theaterfest’s “Beauty and the Beast” broke all box office records when it played last fall at the Marian Theatre in Santa Maria. But with gas prices pushing past $3 a gallon and 100 miles separating Montecito from the Marian, not too many locals got a chance to see it.

But shelve those regrets.

The boisterous, shimmering production of “Beauty” – based on the Broadway musical adapted from the classic Disney film – inaugurates the new season at PCPA’s summer digs, the cozy al fresco Festival Theatre in Santa Ynez. Moving 50 miles down the road doesn’t engender a whole lot of changes, but remounting the musical is still a sizeable task, according to Mark Booher, PCPA’s interim artistic director, who also directed the fall production and returns for the new iteration.

“We’ve done three or four big pieces in the interim, with mostly the same cast and crew, so it’s a lot to recall,” Booher says, just minutes before leaving to conduct the first rehearsal. “The substantial part of the creative work is done, but to get it back up to speed, and in the right shape, feeling alive, will take quite a bit of quick work.”

All of the principal actors – including Joseph Foss as the Prince/Beast, Dana Musgrove as Belle and PCPA favorite David Studwell as Cogsworth – are returning to the fold, but there are several new crew members, the behind-the-scenes staff that changes much more frequently at the professional conservatory theatre housed at Alan Hancock College in Santa Maria.

“That’s the submerged part of the iceberg,” Booher says. “The spotlight operators, wardrobe assistants, deck crew – the part of the company that makes the show run but the audience doesn’t lay eyes on.”

Still, one might think the returning actors need a little motivation, too, since they’ve already proven what they can do on the previous run. Isn’t it true, as the saying goes, that you can’t go home again? How do you pump them up again?

“That’s why we spend a lot of time working on the heart of the play and not just the production,” Booher explains. “’Beauty’ has a lot of production values, lots of bells and whistles, but ultimately the theme of the play is that things of life with real substance are found within, the beauty itself lies within. So we focus on the heart of it. Yes, the play is based on an animated feature, so there are components that are two-dimensional in terms of expression, but the heart of the story is pretty deep. I think it warrants a return.”

Indeed, Booher, who has spent several seasons in New York while away from PCPA, has experience in returning to the same production over and over again. He worked on “A Christmas Carol” for thee years running for an off-Broadway version of the seasonal classic.

“I always found coming back to the story to be fulfilling because it still had something to teach me,” he explains. “I hadn’t yet worked into my life the deep lessons of the parable. So even though ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is packaged as a fairy tale, those can include the deep truths of life. People enjoy it when you bring that out.”

There’s something else any director also has to bring out when mounting a production for PCPA – the entire show, literally, since the theatres at both locations are “thrust” spaces, meaning the stage juts into the audience, and is visible on three sides. Re-imagining the production for a different stage make-up tests the director’s vision, and provides a reason for those familiar with the Broadway version to check out PCPA’s production.

“To push it into the audience required some ingenuity to make it work in three dimensions at all times,” Booher says. “It meant that we had to have some approaches to problems in the narrative, such as the ‘Once upon a Time’ section of the story. On Broadway, they brought down a scrim curtain, and had actors portray the enchantress, the beggar woman and beast and did exposition and transformation through slight of hand. But with our construct, we had to come up with something different.”

But the thrust stage isn’t the only reason Booher considers this new production to be one of favorites of his six seasons at PCPA.

“There’s just something special about theater when there’s no roof on top, and that’s literal and figurative,” he says. “It’s amazing at night. When we’re embracing the cliché of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ dance number – where in the movie they dance onto the patio on a star-lit night – well, we’re literally doing that. There’s something irreplaceable about performing in the open air, and interacting with the sky.”

Play Info

“Beauty and the Beast” plays June 14-July 16, followed by the Central Coast premiere of “Anna in the Tropics” (July 21-August 6), written by Nilo Cruz, who will speak at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference on June 26. “A Little Night Music” (August 11-27), “Much Ado About Nothing” (September 1-17), and “Dames at Sea” (September 22-October 8) round out the Solvang season. All shows are at 8 pm at the Festival Theatre, 420 Second Street. Tickets are $27.25-$29.25 with discounts for students, seniors, children and subscribers. Call 922–8313 or visit www.pcpa.org.

Solstice Souls

It’s not too late to get involved in the 32nd annual Solstice Parade, the exuberant celebration of the longest day of the year (on the closest Saturday, June 24 this year) that is purely about People Power, since animals, motor vehicles and commercial signs are prohibited. But for many participants, the best part happens before the actual parade, when friends, families, co-workers and even strangers gather in the workshop to create a float and/or costumes for the big event.

Don’t fret if you don’t know anybody who’s got an ongoing group. Stragglers are always welcome at the workshop, and it’s rare that an outfit can’t use an extra pair of hands. Chances are you’ll be able to contribute to the final project, and the expert staff can always help you with suggestions, materials and expertise in turning ideas into reality.

In fact, the Solstice staff is particularly excited this year since it’s the first parade since the organization secured a permanent workshop. Located at 631 Garden Street, just three blocks from where the parade commences, the facility will serve as a permanent home for Solstice and a “backstage” area for other performing arts organizations. The fulfillment of the longtime goal of finding such a home has spawned the theme for this year’s parade: Dream.

Dream along by dropping by, calling 965-3396 or visiting www.solsticeparade.com.

The ‘Other’ Solstice

Every year it’s a choice between Santa Barbara’s own Solstice parade and festival and the California Traditional Music Society’s Folk Music, Dancing and Storytelling Festival. While both are organic events, the parade is zany, colorful and exuberant, the music society event is about as down-home, rootsy and un-amplified as these kind of things get these days. The 24th annual festival, slated for June 23-25, features an astounding 27 staging areas, all offering activities in one-hour segments all day long.

This year’s roster of performers includes The McKassons, Alice Gerard and Santa Ynez’s own Peter Feldmann & His Very Lonesome Boys. Special concerts and dances (with separate admission) are held at night. Friday’s evening events begin at 7 pm, hours on Saturday and Sunday are 10 am to 7 pm, plus an evening dance and concert on Saturday at 7 pm. Soka is located at 26800 West Mulholland Highway in Calabasas. Tickets are $24 in advance, $30 at the gate per day ($10-$15 evening.) Call (818) 817-7756 or visit www.ctmsfolkmusic.org/festival/solstice.

Bowled Over

The venerable, renovated amphitheatre has four blockbuster shows for this three-week period, so break out that checkbook and indulge in some hot fun in the summertime. Contemporary country singer Martina McBride gets things going on June 22 with affecting ballads and pop songs that tailor to Nashville’s slick standard but retain a traditionalist’s approach. The most adventurous show of the bunch throws together Fiona Apple, Damian Rice and David Garza on the same June 25 bill; each is a somewhat renegade singer-songwriter well worth hearing on their own. Together, it’s a show that’s could change your life – or at least drastically alter your approach to music. On June 29, it’s another inspired pairing, this time matching Dire Straits’s Mark Knopfler with veteran singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris. The two are touring in support of “All the Roadrunning,” a recently released album of duets they’ve recorded and compiled over the years. The record is terrific; the show seems to be a clear winner too. Finally, two somewhat erstwhile acts share a bill on July 2 in a concert featuring Matchbox Twenty leader Rob Thomas and Jewel.