Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge on the ‘Magnificence and the Beast’ buzz at Olney

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(This interview was initially printed on December 21, 2021, shortly earlier than the hit present was shut down as a result of COVID. It has been up to date with present efficiency data.)

Olney Theatre Middle’s Magnificence and the Beast has garnered nationwide consideration because it opened in November, largely because of the progressive nature of the manufacturing and the casting of the lead roles. Evan Ruggiero, a performer who misplaced a leg to most cancers as a younger grownup, performs the Beast. Jade Jones, a self-described queer, plus-sized Black lady, performs Belle. These casting decisions have attracted the eye of media shops together with MSNBC and Individuals Journal. A video of Jade singing “Dwelling,” Belle’s solo quantity from the present, has gone viral. Marcia Milgrom Dodge directs the manufacturing. I spoke to Dodge final week about her method to the present and requested why she thinks it’s resonating so deeply with audiences.

Marcia Milgrom Dodge

Dodge has an extended historical past of working in DC theater. She obtained her skilled begin at Enviornment Stage, choreographing a manufacturing of On the City in 1989. At Enviornment, she additionally labored on a 1990 revival of Merrily We Roll Alongside, alongside Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, who had been in residence for the manufacturing.

Extra not too long ago in 2009, Dodge directed a manufacturing of Ragtime on the  Kennedy Middle. It was the primary time that the Kennedy Middle had employed a lady to direct and choreograph a musical. Dodge’s manufacturing of Ragtime met with nice success and transferred to Broadway, the place it obtained a number of Tony Award nominations, together with a greatest path nomination for Dodge.

Listed below are excerpts from our dialog about Magnificence and the Beast. The dialog has been edited for readability.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with me!

Something for my fabulous little present. I’m so pleased with it!

I noticed it with my ten-year-old daughter just a few weeks in the past and we had a good time. I believe it’s simply what individuals want proper now. It’s such a launch.

A launch with a bit extra “there” there. I noticed so many little Black ladies within the viewers simply scream and lose their minds after they noticed Jade. It was so thrilling to me that we’re in a position to “smuggle in some deeper which means.” I heard Don Cheadle say that when a couple of caper film he was doing and since then I’ve all the time thought that’s what I love to do with my path: smuggle in some deeper which means.

Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero because the Beast within the Olney Theatre Middle manufacturing of Disney’s Magnificence and the Beast, directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Picture by Teresa Castracane Pictures.

I like that! How did you smuggle deeper which means into this manufacturing?

Including these outstanding performances expands the definition of magnificence in all its varieties. And that was actually what I got down to do. Work out my method into it and in addition make it extraordinarily significant for the viewers that’s seeing the present right now. I can’t do replicas. If somebody desires a duplicate, they need to rent another person. That’s simply not what I do. I dig. I wrestle with the textual content. I attempt to discover a cause to make the story palpable for an viewers right now. And I couldn’t do this on this present with out casting exterior of the field. Now that we’ve achieved it this fashion, I hope we let individuals know that there’s alternative for individuals of all sizes, colours, shapes, talents to put on a princess robe or be the Beast. Evan says that when he was a child, he used to run round his home pretending to be the Beast however by no means in his wildest goals did he suppose he would play this function.

What has modified and what hasn’t modified on this manufacturing?

Properly, I didn’t change a phrase of textual content. I used to be working inside a really particular construction. In bringing a contemporary lens to a traditional like this you must dig into the connection between Belle and all of the male characters within the present. In doing that, you honor the unique work but in addition increase it. That expands the definition of magnificence in all its varieties. And the way in which that we forged the present challenges assumptions. Asking the viewers to make use of their creativeness challenges assumptions. In stretching the characterization a bit bit to permit for somebody like Jade Jones to assay that function, I don’t suppose we did something however make it extra thrilling.

Once you had been initially speaking about doing this with Olney, at what level did the concept for the casting are available?

Immediately. I advised Jason [Jason Loewith, Olney Artistic Director] that if he hires me to do Magnificence and the Beast it’s not going to be your mom’s Magnificence and the Beast. He was tremendous with that. I had labored with Jade earlier than on 110 within the Shade at Ford’s Theatre. Once I advised my husband that Olney wished me to do Magnificence and the Beast he mentioned, “Jade Jones.” I mentioned, “I’m already on it.” So we invited her to audition for Belle. I don’t suppose she understood what was happening. She was like “what?” I knew her voice however I wished to listen to her sing the Magnificence and the Beast songs. I heard her sing “Dwelling” and that was it. Now she’s blowing up social media with her model of that music. Even Susan Egan [the original Belle in the Broadway production] commented on it.

Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero because the Beast within the Olney Theatre Middle manufacturing of Disney’s ‘Magnificence and the Beast’ directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Picture by Teresa Castracane Pictures.

In what different methods have you ever up to date the Belle character?

Jade and I had been very decided to make Belle heroic. When Linda Wolverton wrote the animated Disney film within the Nineteen Nineties, she gave Belle a ability set [reading]. Which most princesses didn’t actually have. I imply, Cinderella is the one who had essentially the most ability set of all of the princesses as a result of she truly has to clean and clear. However not one of the different princesses do something. Snow White lies in mattress and form of seems lovely. There usually are not plenty of aims aside from let’s get a prince. I believe our Belle is a feminist. She is clear in the way in which she responds to the advances by Gaston. She is caring and understanding about her dad. We’ve even mentioned that her dad is perhaps within the early levels of Alzheimer’s, which within the fairy story wouldn’t be explored however for those who look beneath, you may definitely see that with a extra fashionable lens. She is greater than only a lady who loves her dad after which marries a prince. She is feisty. When she meets the Beast and realizes that this can be a being that affects her, it’s sophisticated and life is messy. I give actors permission to be messy.

What about Evan?

The factor that I really like about Evan is that he has this petulant arrested improvement method to the Beast. He advised me later that he was going via the traces along with his girlfriend and she or he mentioned, “Why are you being so petulant?” and he mentioned “I believe that’s how he’s. I’m simply going to go for it.” It was a brand new alternative but in addition such a sensible choice. As a result of give it some thought: the Beast stopped rising up simply when his physique would have gone via puberty. He turned an animal at age ten so what does he learn about manners and respect? As a result of now he’s an animal dwelling with no mother and father.

The manufacturing begins with a prologue, the place we see the prince as a toddler earlier than he turns into the Beast.

The very first thing I did was learn the script and ask why is that this prince such an offended little boy within the opening scene? And why is he being raised by a teapot and a candelabra? I noticed the prince as being ten years previous earlier than he’s was the Beast. He spends about ten years because the beast however these are the essential years when he would have gone via puberty and discovered social graces. He by no means had that. The place are the mother and father? The place did they go? So Evan and I talked about it and determined that perhaps there was some form of tragedy wherein his mother and father perished and he misplaced his leg and he’s left with plenty of anger. From there, we invite the viewers’s creativeness as a result of I would like them to fill in these blanks. Having Evan within the function actually allowed me to go in and dig deeper into the Beast’s background after which incorporate that into who he’s. When he’s reworked again right into a human on the finish of the present, what Belle sees is that he’s nonetheless the identical individual. He wouldn’t seem like a storybook Prince. He’s been in the identical garments for ten years. He’s in pants which might be too small and his shirt’s a multitude and he’s obtained stubble. It’s like puberty occurred through the transformation.

What are some ways in which you noticed Evan and Jade make these roles their very own?

One in all my favourite issues that Jade and Evan do collectively is after the wolf chase scene when he saves her, and she or he is making an attempt to nurse his accidents. They’ve this little battle they usually each growl at one another. That was all Jade. She simply did it in the future in rehearsal after which she was like, “Wait, can I do this?” and I mentioned, “after all!” As a result of they’re connecting in their very own distinctive method. Solely these two characters, performed by these two actors, dwelling honestly on this second can join on this explicit method. It’s fantastic and actual and genuine. After which it turns into important. Now I can’t think about that little second in that scene with out that. They’ve rebranded that relationship.

Why do you suppose the manufacturing is resonating so deeply proper now? You’ve obtained plenty of nationwide press protection.

We now have and it’s thrilling. I wish to create theater for individuals to see themselves on stage, and I believe we’re giving them a smorgasbord. We now have a Latinx Cogsworth, a Black Mrs. Potts and Chip, a really various firm. The present begins with a nonbinary actor because the enchantress. We now have ladies enjoying little boys. I believe we now have introduced a world the place variety thrives, and if that’s the takeaway then fantastic as a result of what I got down to do was actually make an inclusive firm. Selecting up these conversations right now is important.

Jade Jones as Belle and the ensemble of Disney’s ‘Magnificence and the Beast’ directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge at Olney Theatre Middle. Picture by Teresa Castracane Pictures.

It’s additionally a lovely fairy story with fantastic music and lyrics, and it’s being produced through the holidays after we are struggling via this pandemic. Individuals are coming to the theater figuring out they’re taking a calculated threat however coming as a result of they want that sense of neighborhood and to be in that darkish house sharing that sense of journey collectively. There’s something lovely about that. Seeing Jade Jones come downstage heart to sing Belle. Audiences are being jolted in a great way to say, wow, I by no means imagined Belle this fashion, and now I can’t think about her another method. That to me is the validation. That claims to me that the alternatives we made are resonating as a result of they’re proper. Jade will let you know, she is nice at her job. Why can’t she play a princess? Simply because she doesn’t seem like the little teeny tiny animated character? I wish to dig beneath and search for that true sense of neighborhood and authenticity. What’s fortunately ever after? In our world now, and on this present, it’s acceptance and kindness.

Working Time: Two hours half-hour, together with one 15-minute intermission.

Disney’s Magnificence and the Beast performs via January 1, 2023, at Olney Theatre Middle, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Street, Olney, MD. Tickets ($42–$99) might be bought on-line or by calling 301-924-3400. Reductions can be found for teams, seniors, army, and college students.

The paperless program is right here.

The November 22, 2022, opening evening memento program is right here.

COVID Security: Olney Theatre presents each mask-required and mask-recommended performances for patrons within the Mainstage Theatre and 1938 Unique Theatre: For performances on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, face masks are advisable however not required. For performances on Wednesdays and Sundays, face masks are required. Olney’s Well being and Security web page is right here.

SEE ALSO:
Olney elevates ‘Magnificence and the Beast’ to new and thrilling heights (assessment by Darby DeJarnette, November 12, 2021)
Contemporary and enjoyable ‘Magnificence and the Beast’ returns to Olney Theatre Middle (assessment by Julia Amis, November 15, 2022)

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