Why Giancarlo Rodaz’s “Beauty And The Beast” Just Might Be the Start of a Theatre Renaissance

To say that Area Stage Company’s immersive reimagining of Beauty and The Beast took the South Florida theatre world by storm may be a bit of an understatement. Along with earning rave reviews across the board and picking up several major awards including a Silver Palm and 4 Carbonells, the show sold out the entirety of its six week run last August. Demand for tickets remained high enough at the show’s close to warrant its current return engagement, which has also been selling out the majority of its performances.  

Though a theatre event of any kind achieving that level of popularity strikes me as almost unprecedented in the usual scheme of South Florida, it’s also somewhat unsurprising to me given how evident it was that the show was in a class of its own. 

As you can read more about in my first post over on Area Stage’s blog, I recently ended up joining ASC’s team as a content developer, but have been a fan of the company since long before I was officially affiliated, and especially of this particular show, which I actually named as my top pick of last season. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I was probably more motivated to interrogate director Giancarlo Rodaz about his creation in the hopes of understanding how mesmerized I was by the production than I was by anything else! 

But the closest thing I’ve found to an explanation seems to be how seriously Rodaz takes each and every script he approaches, which seems to go double for those others might be tempted to dismiss as childish or frivolous. Instead, he seems to have a knack for teasing out just how much joy such shows have the potential to bringprovided that people treat them with the respect he thinks they deserve. 

Like many others of our generation, Rodaz grew up watching Disney moviesand could thus recognize in Beauty and the Beast’s cultural sway a tremendous opportunity to touch the hearts of his audiences by infusing what he calls the best-crafted of the bunch with his signature ingenuity. 

Though the cohesiveness of the final product makes his approach look almost effortless, the show’s success as he explains it is no freak event but the culmination of years of honing his skills through trial and error, and of being willing to undertake plenty of risky experiments and persevere through his fair share of failures along the way. 

But now that he’s more confident in his grasp of the mechanics, he seems unafraid to eschew just about any convention in the hopes of cutting through to what he describes as the “core” of his given storyrather like a sculptor chiseling at a piece of marble until all that’s left is the essence of what he sought to represent. 

So, as for what’s at the core of Beauty And the Beast? In his view, ‘Be Our Guest’ says it allit’s the way in which Belle is welcomed into the castle by the servants, and the sense of home and belonging she ultimately finds there. Though I suppose I’ve always thought of it as a story about two lost outsiders seeking refuge in love, Rodaz sees it as a story about Belle finding her community—so all the story’s immersive elements were only a natural way to extend that sense of being welcomed to every “guest” in the audience. 

From there, every element of the production—from a cast capable of tapping into the “soul” of the characters to the entirety of the show’s period-inspired and pared-down aesthetic—was simply chosen to serve that central goal. And that said guests intuitively understood this intention seems to be a major factor in why they left their tables so enchanted, enough so that many wanted to come back for a second course.

“We had some people repeat so many times. Strangers, complete strangers. That’s so rare in theatre,” he describes. 

“People would come and get in line early and ask for a certain table, because they would know certain things happened at certain tables and they wanted a front row seat.”

And if anyone who saw the show last time is considering coming back to the castle, they can expect the same magical atmosphere but a show different enough to offer a few new thrills for any repeat viewers. For one thing, they’ll find two new leading actors, who Rodaz describes as phenomenal and as telling a “completely different love story” than his original stars. 

There are also a few scenes he’s restaged in an attempt to clarify the show’s message even further, something he’s never had the chance to do with any of his prior work and that he describes as an “amazing” chance to continue serving his story. 

Clearly, if there’s one thing Rodaz is not, it’s complacentwhich perhaps explains his willingness to be honest about the fact that he has little respect for theatre makers who don’t seem to be holding themselves to similarly exacting standards. It’s all part and parcel of his belief that there are a good deal of artists out there who should be spending less time asking patrons to support the arts—and more time thinking about whether they’re making art worth supporting. 

So, instead of falling back on some platitudes about the death of theatre whenever things got tough, he simply took every ill-attended show as an incentive to create something ever-more remarkable—and then kept at it until the establishment took note. According to him, all it really takes to get people to come to a play is to put on a play that’s actually worth coming to—and the explosion of word of mouth around Beauty and subsequent surge in ticket sales seems to be the perfect proof. 

As an extension of this philosophy, he’s also come to believe that incorporating more immersivity could be key to making theatre more relevant on the whole. Taking note of the continual popularity of theme parks even when other forms of in-person entertainment falter, it seems to him that doing more to push the envelope is one of the only ways theatre in this day and age might hope to justify its high price of admission. To compete against the constant barrage of content available on every screen, he believes that the theatre owes its patrons not only a good show but something so transporting that we lose track of our own “reality” almost entirely— the kind of completely absorbing experience we can’t get anywhere else. 

In other words, the reason I and so many others found themselves completely transported into the world of Beauty And The Beast is because that was precisely what Rodaz intendedand this is only the beginning of his crusade. In fact, after discovering via Beauty how receptive audiences were to the show’s interactive elements and recognizing a kind of thirst for a more communal experience, he has become even more intent on providing it. 

Accordingly, next up on his agenda is another familiar title, which ASC has just announced they will be holding upcoming auditions for ahead of a planned production at the Arsht this August: The Little Mermaid. After attending Beauty and the Beast and recognizing that Rodaz was up to something special, director of Disney Licensing David Scott was able to give the company special permission to use the show’s original Broadway script since that original production, which represents a tremendous honor.

While I’m quite excited to see how this next adventure turns out, in the meantime, you can still catch Rodaz’s unforgettable reimagining of a “tale as old as time” for only two more weeks. Considering that this weekend’s performances are already starting to sell out, you’d probably be well-served by reserving a ticket ASAP if you want to see what all the buzz is about! 

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *