Take Me To the Theater

Ben Michael plays the Beast and Catherine Charlebois plays Belle in the NC Theatre's production of "Beauty and the Beast."

Catherine Charlebois loves seeing her young fans in the audience — dressed for the occasion in tiaras and sparkling gold ball gowns.

“I get to see all these little girls out in the audience. That’s truly my favorite part,” said the actress, currently playing Belle in North Carolina Theatre’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” The classic Disney musical runs through Sunday, July 30, at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium.

The young audience adds an interactive element to the production, with fans impulsively cheering when Belle tells off the boorish Gaston, or singing along to familiar songs.

“You get to see these little girls get inspired and excited about a character who loves to read, and is smart and spunky and stands up for what she believes in,” said Charlebois. “There aren’t many musicals that are so centered around a character like that.”

The actress remembers watching the animated “Beauty and the Beast” as a child herself and falling in love with Belle. She’s excited that the popular story attracts those who might not be regular theater-goers.

“Introducing theater to a new generation, to people who maybe wouldn’t go unless their child was interested,” is so important, Charlebois said. “There’s a chance that we’re going to hook someone into it, and get them excited to see more theater.”

The Raleigh show is the third time she’s played the character in a year, and Charlebois still finds interesting aspects of the story.

“I never get bored playing her,” she said. “There’s always new things to learn, things to discover. She’s like the dream part or person to play. Her story is so intricate and deep, and she gets to go through so much in the play every night. It’s always exciting — every night.”

A big part of that excitement is thanks to the elaborate costumes: the beast’s frightening exterior, Lumiere’s candlesticks and Cogsworth’s clock. Even Belle’s comparatively understated costumes help express her growing love for the beast.

“When you put on the gold gown in Act 2, it certainly is a ‘moment,’” said Charlebois. “It’s the first time Belle wears heels in the show, and she has a big hoop skirt and lots of sparkles. In the show, it is the first time she and the beast really come together in a different way.”

The enduring story of two people and the transformational power of love and friendship is the main appeal of the play, she says. But it doesn’t hurt that there are also rollicking dance numbers, beautiful music and intricate costumes.

“The whole night is a spectacle for the audience,” Charlebois said. “As the show goes on, more and more people come out in these gorgeous costumes. It’s one exciting moment after another. It never stops until the end.”

“Beauty and the Beast” will run through Sunday, July 30, at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets visit nctheatre.com or call Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000. For groups of 10 or more, call (919) 831-6941 x6949.

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