“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” Comes to the Schuster

When she was a child, Hilary Maiberger says Belle was always her favorite Disney character.

Now the Bowling Green graduate will bring that beloved character to life in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” the touring Broadway musical.

The national tour comes to the Schuster Center May 27- June 1 as part of the Victoria Theatre Association’s 2013-14 Premier Health Broadway Series. Maiberger will play the leading role of a young woman in a provincial town who falls in love with a young prince trapped in a spell placed by an enchantress.

“She’s not your usual damsel-in-distress, she sacrifices herself for her father, which is an amazing act of love, and complete selflessness,” says Maiberger, who says she first identified with Belle because she also had brown hair and brown eyes.

But as she got older, she says, she realized that Belle also had character traits worthy of admiration.

“She has so much depth and is so real,” Maiberger says. “She’s very strong-willed and smart and passionate. And she’s eager to find out what’s outside of her small town. She has huge dreams she totally believes in.”

Maiberger, who grew up in Southern California, says she’s always loved Ohio.

“My dad grew up in Tiffin, Ohio, and every summer when we were kids we would go back and visit family,” she explains.”So Ohio has always been kind of a second home to me and when I started searching for schools for my master’s degree, the first place I looked was Ohio.”

She says three of her voice teachers at Bowling Green have had a great influence on her life.

Over the years Maiberger has played roles ranging from Nellie in “South Pacific” to Jo in “Little Women” and has taken on operatic roles as well. At the time she was cast as Belle, she was portraying Princess Jasmine in a Disneyland musical and this summer she’ll play Eliza Doolittle in the Moonlight Amphitheater in Vista, California.

But “Beauty and the Beast,” she says, is very special.

“The story and music and script are so well-written and it’s such a beautiful message of true love found within,” she says. “It’s all about inner beauty and not judging someone for what they’re wearing or what they look like.”

Maiberger says that message is relevant today and will continue to be for a long time.

“I have nieces and nephews who are getting bullied at school, “she says. “What’s so beautiful about Belle is that she’s just your average teenage girl who doesn’t really fit in and just trying to figure out who she is. Then she finds who she is and is OK, and finds someone else who loves her for who she is.”

Maiberger, who says she’s living her dream, says it’s a thrill to look out into her audiences and see lots of little girls in their Belle dresses with their moms and dads, grandparents.

Her hope is to join the international tour of the show and then to move to New York. Musical theater is definitely in the picture.

“I love the storytelling and taking people away from their daily grind,” she says. “I love the idea of playing make-believe but making it real for yourself. I love being able to step into something that doesn’t happen to you every day.”

Creating the magic

Scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer also loves make believe.

“I get to color and play pretend for a living,” says Meyer, who was headed for a job at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg when we reached him by phone. “My favorite thing about a job is that after I’ve done the design work and the project has gone to the shop, I like seeing it all come to life in three dimensions.”

Meyer says he’s been fortunate to have such a diversified career: his designs have ranged from Disneyland parades to Shamu shows at Sea World and from Ringling Brothers circus sets to Tournament of Roses floats. He’s currently designing the set for a new Broadway play,”Strange Dents,” about the friendship between Truman Capote and Andy Warhol.

Meyer is one of the original creators of the Broadway “Beauty and the Beast.” That team came together once again for this new national tour.

What hasn’t changed is the animated film’s Academy Award-winning score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman. Additional songs were composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Tim Rice. The book is written by Linda Woolverton.

What’s “re-imagined” for this tour are the other elements — lighting, choreography, costumes.

Meyer says every project involves a lot of research.

“I never know where the next creative inspiration will come from,” he explains. “For ‘Beauty and the Beast, the hand-painted scenery was inspired by the woodcuts in old European storybooks.”

Meyer says when the original show was designed for Broadway decades ago, Disney’s Michael Eisner was at the helm.

“It was his first experience creating a musical for the stage and he very specifically wanted us to bring the cartoon to life on stage,” he explains. “This new version is much more imaginative and whimsical.”

The challenge for a road tour set, he explains, is that it has to be able to break down into many pieces and be loaded and unloaded quickly.

Meyer says he likes the road tour version of this show even more than the original.

“It allows for audiences to use their imaginations more,” he explains. “It’s much more creative.”

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” has played to over 35 million people worldwide in 22 countries and has been translated into nine different languages.

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