For three July weekends, Woodland Park may seem even a bit more magical.
That's because Kentucky Conservatory Theatre’s 2018 SummerFest musical is "Beauty and the Beast," opening July 5 and running until July 22, with classic tunes such as "Be Our Guest" and the title tune.
“I love working with KCT because they’re so passionate about what they do,” said Ron Wilbur, who plays the Beast, and should be a familiar face to fans of the company.
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Wilbur played the Lion in KCT’s 2017 SummerFest production of "The Wiz" and the title role in WinterFest's January production of "Sweeney Todd." He said playing both characters informed his performance as Beast; both the Lion and Todd are expressive, larger-than-life characters, but they have a deeper human aspect.
And a crucial part of both the Lion and Beast’s roles is a distinctive roar, which Wilbur performs himself with no effects.
“They’ve both been dream roles of mine,” he said.
Belle is played by Krissalyn Love in her third KCT production and second SummerFest. Though she says she doesn’t fit the Disney image of Belle and what is usually seen onscreen, she works to embody the princess’s traits rather than looks and work past the usual expectations.
“I’ve been so scared of what people will think, but that image is nowhere in the character book and nowhere in the script,” she said.
Love doted on her Disney princess dolls as a child and was particularly fond of Belle, so getting the role was, to her, unexpected but a welcome challenge to carve her own path as a character that has gone through so many retellings.
“Instead of looking like a certain image of 'Beauty and the Beast,' we’re creating a story with a fresh outlook,” she said.
It’s a theme that runs through the entire show. The set is decked with stained glass that is also integrated into the transformed characters, revealing their true humanity.
The company has given Love a fresh outlook on herself. After a small role in "Dreamgirls," Love played Dorothy in "The Wiz" during SummerFest 2017. Last summer, she told the Herald-Leader that she was once told in a high school theater workshop she would never have a leading role. Now she is playing the lead for the second summer in a row.
Summerfest, and KCT’s other productions, employ local actors and technicians for their shows, which Wilbur said leads to a strong sense of community that makes every production special.
“I feel good being a local and being able to showcase my talents here,” said Wilbur, who is originally from Atlanta but attended the University of Kentucky and now lives in Lexington. “There is so much talent here.”
“You walk in strangers but you leave a family,” said Love, who had no professional theater experience before joining KCT.
Actors rehearsed through weekdays in May, then transitioned to a weekend schedule in anticipation of an early July opening. Although the work is tough, Wilbur said the audience will be enchanted by the final result. Because the show is an outdoors production, audiences are encouraged to clap, sing along, and engage with the classic show.
He said, “I just hope that they feel the Disney magic.”
If You Go
"Beauty and the Beast"
What: Kentucky Conservatory Theatre SummerFest's production of the Disney classic.
When: July 5-8, 12-15 and 19-22
Showtimes: 8:45 p.m. showtime, gates open at 7:30
Where: Woodland Park, 601 E High St
Tickets: $15 adult, $10 children 10 and under
Shakespeare returns to the park
Many years ago, the modern era of summer outdoor theater in Lexington began with The Bard, William Shakespeare, and productions by the Lexington Shakespeare Festival.
In recent years, Kentucky Conservatory Theatre's SummerFest has focused on musical theater productions. But this year, the company is sharing the Woodland Park stage with burgeoning Lexington theater troupe Antagonist Productions, which will present "Othello" on the off nights between SummerFest's weekend performances of "Beauty and the Beast."
The production features two Lexington stage veterans in the leading roles: Whit Whitaker as Othello and Tom Phillips as Iago, with Courtney Davidson as Desdemona. Gates open at 8 p.m. and showtime is at dark July 9 to 11 and 16 to 18. It also plays July 26 to 28 at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in Mt. Vernon. Admission is a suggested donation of $10. Visit facebook.com/antagonistproductionslex for more information.