Tale as old as time
Getting into character as Lefou in "Beauty in the Beast" isn't too difficult for Victor Gossage.
"It helps that I have an extremely outgoing, goofy personality already," Joked the 26-year-old who grew up in Eudora and graduated from De Soto High School in 2000. "Most of it is being an extra goofy me and then changing my voice."
Theatre in the Park's production of "Beauty and the Beast" opens Friday at Shawnee Mission Park.
"Le fou" means "the fool" in French, and the character Lefou is the sidekick to Gaston, the man who wants Belle to be his wife in "Beauty and the Beast."
While the part marks Gossage's first major role in any production, he has performed in the chorus for several Theatre in the Park productions, including "Footloose" last year.
Aside from his role as Lefou, Gossage is pursuing a career in the music industry and is finishing a solo project with Afinia Records.
"I would describe it as a mix between R&B and rock," he said.
Gossage said when trying out for a role at Theatre in the Park, he specifically wanted a role in "Beauty and the Beast."
"It's one of my favorite Disney shows," he said. "I love Disney shows. I guess it makes me think of my family a lot because we all watched them together."
Making a well-known Disney fairytale have depth in its musical production hasn't been easy for director Nathan Norcross.
"It's been a challenge because I am the biggest advocate for truth in musical theater and not staging," he said.
Norcross is making his directing debut with Theatre in the Park's production of "Beauty and the Beast."
"To take a show with singing teapots and candlesticks that dance, it was a big challenge to find the truth in this world," Norcross said. "I had to step back and say 'Who is this girl?'"
Norcross said he was intrigued by the lead female character, Belle, and he said he was exploring what her past was as well as what she wanted for her future. He noted how in the opening song, Belle refers to "the morning that we came to this poor provincial town."
"That implies that they didn't always live there," he said. "Where did she live, then? What happened to her mother?"
Though Norcross doesn't have the answers, he pointed out that those mysteries made Belle different than other Disney princesses, and executive producer Melissa Wyckoff agreed.
"There is depth to her and there is a character arc," Wyckoff said. "At first, she feels poor me about being in the castle, but then she makes the best of the situation to see where it takes her."
Because of the popularity of "Beauty and the Beast" and the cost to produce the show, the Theatre Council for Theatre in the Park opted for only four shows this season instead of the usual five. However, "Beauty and the Beast" will have a longer run than usual, playing for three weeks instead of two.
About 48 people are included in the cast, and the Theatre rented some of the extravagant costumes needed to dress a teapot, a candlestick and a clock from the West Virginia Public Theatre.
The set from West Virginia only included costumes for a cast of 32, so some costumes had to be made to dress the rest of the staff, Norcross said. He also had some special costumes made to fit his vision of the show.
"I wanted special finale dresses and suits, so we had matching identical gowns and three-piece suits made for the main characters," Norcross said. "I envision that as their wedding. I don't know if it is, but that is what is implied and I wanted it to be special."
Renting the costumes cost the Theatre about $10,000 Norcross said and making the additional costumes probably added about $1,000 to that. But he said that was middle of the road as far a renting costumes for such an extravagant production.
"Rental packages for this show range from $2,000 to $3,000 up to $30,000 or $40,000," he said.
Wyckoff said having only four shows in a season with one having an extended run was an experiment by the Theatre Council, and it talks are going on right now concerning the line-up for next year's season.
"Next year is going to be our 40th anniversary, so we want to do something big," she said.