Want to enjoy a great soprano and a beautiful score? “My Fair Lady” is your show. Soaring dance? Try “West Side Story.” Tasteless laughs? You can’t do better than “The Book of Mormon.”
But for “Beauty and the Beast,” which opens in a new production Friday at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, it’s the costume shop’s turn to step up and take a bow.
There is Mrs. Potts, the cook-cum-teapot; Lumiere, a valet lit up as a candelabra, and Madame de la Grande Bouche, the stuffy chest of drawers who was once a grand opera diva. Then we have knives, forks, spoons, sugar bowls, creamers, Champagne bottles and glasses, all dancing on a stage set cocked ever so slightly to the surreal.
Chanhassen did the show 11 years ago, with a design that leaned on Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film version of the fairy tale — a dark and beautifully strange departure from the dazzling, bright cartoon colors of the 1991 Disney movie that spawned the Broadway musical. Costume designer Rich Hamson and set designer Nayna Ramey again will evoke the gargoyles, the disembodied arms and permeable marble slabs that can suddenly take life.
You’d think Chanhassen could recycle costumes from its 2005 production, but “we rented out the old show so much that it’s too beat up to use anymore,” said Hamson. “Some of the Champagne glasses did make it, though.”
Beyond that, this production has a different color scheme (gold, silver and white) and more definition in the costumes and scenery.
The dancing forks, for example, have more three-dimensional heft. The gargoyles, who were painted into the background last time, have been remade as human sculptures with grotesque rubber masks.
“It’s a fairy tale,” Hamson reminded a visitor to the costume shop.
“There’s a whimsy,” said actor Michael Gruber, who for this show is trading the spotlight for a seat behind a sewing machine. “The costumes have this sense of humor, in a sophisticated way.”
It is unusual for an actor to work in the costume shop, but Hamson said Gruber has great ability behind the scenes.
“I knew he had an eye and a skill for this,” Hamson said.
“Beauty and the Beast” is not the biggest show Hamson has costumed at Chanhassen. He oversaw 120 pieces in “Hello, Dolly!”
This show, however, is far more complex, with costumes that require sculptural construction using cardboard, metal, insulation foam, layers of fabric, paint and electronics.
Gruber showed off a rubber latex chest piece with a reptilian look.
Hamson and his crew scour thrift shops, hardware stores, fabric stores and Home Depot for the raw materials needed to build a show.
“One piece of fabric can inspire an entire show,” said Hamson, who prefers a show’s design to unfold organically — subject to change along the way, rather than hold to a rigid template.
Gruber, Nanci Aeilts and the others toiling in the basement wardrobe rooms are part seamstresses, part parents putting together a project for the sixth-grade science fair.
Aeilts showed off the small motors that drive spinning plates worn on the backs of actors.
“I worked with a fella at Hub Hobby on customizing the motor,” she said.
The other day she was monkeying with a lighting mechanism stuck into the foam candle head of Lumiere — trying to figure out how the actor could work the switch.
With a limited budget, Hamson’s crew works under intense pressure for a short period. He, set designer Ramey and director Michael Brindisi met months ago. Ramey came up with palettes shaded toward autumnal hues and located the show in the 17th century.
Hamson makes drawings and will even construct a piece or two to allow Brindisi and choreographer Tam Kangas Erickson to test whether actors have sufficient room to move.
“The salt and pepper shakers are very structural at the bottom,” Hamson said. “So we have to make sure that won’t inhibit movement.”
Costumers recognize that their work must reinforce the storytelling of a play. Belle, for instance, is almost always dressed in blue with gold trim. The Beast is subdued in color and clad in ragged outfits. Gaston, Belle’s egotistical suitor, wears the stitched leather vest that’s iconic for a muscular character.
“Rich always has so many ideas,” Aeilts said of Hamson.
“Yes, sometimes too many ideas,” he replied.
For this show, can you have too many ideas?
Beauty and the Beast
What: Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Michael Brindisi.
When: 6 p.m. dinner/8 p.m. show Tue.-Sat., 4:30/ 6:30 p.m. Sun. Matinees on Wed., Sat. Ends Sept. 24.
Where: 501 W. 78th St., Chanhassen.
Tickets: $49-$85. 952-934-1525, chanhassendt.com.