Sunday, March 30, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

Two years ago, Terry Hale and his wife needed a change. Upon discovering the Elgin Opera House they found that opportunity. After getting the lease rights, the Hale’s spent the first year learning about the movie industry. Offering the first theatrical play in November with A Christmas Carol, Hale wanted to do something extraordinary.

“We picked a rather ambitious show”, says Hale with a smile. “I wanted something that would appeal to audiences of all ages and different talent levels of the actors. I wanted it to have a broad appeal.” The Hales decided that the show they wanted was Disney’s Broadway Production of Beauty and the Beast.

Once the rights to the play were secured with Music Theater International (MTI), Hale made what he calls a major leap of faith. “We looked at from a ‘if you build it they will come’ perspective”, says Hale.

And build they did. Recruiting not only cast members with talent but who also had a willingness to work day and night building an elaborate set and stage design.

Local artist Jon Hanley painted all the back drops for the performance and plays the part of Maurice, Belle’s father. “There are some people who are literally living here to get this going,” says Hanley. Hanley refers to the many in the cast that are also working on stage props, costumes and set design.

Maureen Miller of La Grande is in charge of costume design as well as some of the choreography. Miller has two children who are acting in the play. Hale calls this one of the hardest shows there is to costume and says Miller has done a great job.

Hale opened try outs in January and according to him, begged borrowed and stole actors from EOU and local high schools in Cove, Union and Elgin. “The majority of the kids you see on stage here come from schools that don’t have a theater program. Without this, they wouldn’t have this opportunity.” Hale states that the cast of just under 50 actors range in age from 5 years old to 70 years of age and from first timers to seasoned veterans. Nancy Crawford, of Community Bank in Elgin was asked to try out after she volunteered to assist Hale with the production. With past choir experience, Hale says Crawford has gone from zero to sixty miles and hour in her acting experience since signing on as Mrs. Potts. This production has allowed Hale to take people with no experience in theater and watch them blossom as it unfolds.

No stranger to theater, Hale was a communications and marketing major in college but spent all of his electives in theater and music. Hale directed community theater in the Portland area and has continued to direct and act from the 80’s until the past few years. “This is my first directing attempt in six years and I have jumped into it with both feet”. Hale appears to have an eye for the details during rehearsals making small yet important changes throughout that a big difference for his actors.

A great break came for Hale when Becky Chelsen of Portland was able to dedicate some of her time to this project. Chelsen professionally assists in theater projects throughout Oregon. “She has really pulled it together for us,” says Hale. “We are lucky to have her.”

Rick Mugrage who plays The Beast tried out for the play back in January. “I’ve known Terry [Hale] and I have performed at the Opera House before”, says Mugrage. Mugrage had a musical show at the Elgin Opera House in March of 2007. “So far it’s been a three month project since tryouts were held which have involved rehearsals six days a week.” Mugrage, who is a professional musician preparing to leave for Portland to perform a concert feels lucky to have the time to devote to the project. “Some guys here have day jobs,” say Mugrage. “One of the cast members works at Nash. He’s here rehearsing until 11:00 PM and then is up for work at 6:00 AM.” Mugrage hopes this opens up the community in Elgin and in La Grande. “Terry has done a good job with this. I hope it draws people here to see this and a lot of other things in the future. Mugrage’s children also hold parts in the performance as well as some of his family members.

Ylee Peacock is a well-known name to any who attend EOU theater performances. With roles in Shakespeare, Lonestar and You Can’t Take it With You, Peacock couldn’t resist seeing what Hale had to offer with this production. Peacock began his career performing with the Missoula Children’s Theater when it would come through the area in his childhood. Little did he know he would grow to love all aspects of theater. Playing Gaston, who Peacock calls theaters most chauvinistic character, has been fun for the actor. “There are three songs in this production that are devoted to Gaston and his ego”, says Peacock. “I love the rumbly voice I get to play and I can basically ignore the other characters because it’s all about Gaston. Bad acting is good acting with this role.” Peacock hopes this will spark theater at the Opera House every weekend. “I would love to see shows that run three months long here bringing the Opera House back to being an opera house.” Though Peacock has plans to leave the area with is fiance’, actress Rose Stevens, this summer to start a non-profit children’s theater on the coast, he would like to come back and work with Hale again at the Opera House. “It’s been fun to be a part of theater outside of EOU. I’ve enjoyed a different perspective to theater and sharing what I know, too. I get to learn it all over again. The opportunity has been great as well as other opportunities that have been afforded to me here have opened many doors. I’m so glad to be a part of theater in this area.”

Relative newcomer to the Grande Ronde Valley, Heidi Petersen shifted her original position of Babette the Feather Duster to the lead role of Belle with ease. “I had originally tried out for both parts and was selected as Babette. Then I got a call to play Belle.” A second year EOU theater major, this will be the 6th show for Petersen. “Everyone is so great”, says Petersen. “Rick [Mugrage] and I have become good friends and I have become close with his family.” When not in full Belle persona, Petersen fills in on the set by making music practice CD’s for the cast and playing other cast members for actors to practice with. Petersen feels she has grown through this experience in learning new techniques. “It’s getting the down and dirty experience of working with people and learning how to portray emotion on stage”. Though she can’t seem to find any negatives to her experience with this show, Petersen admits at times it’s a challenge to keep the energy going. “That can be tough sometimes” says Petersen. “If you can keep the energy going, you can keep the rest of it going too.” Petersen’s post college plans are just to take it one day at a time. “I’m waiting on God to know where he wants me to be. Its up to God and I’m not really worried about it yet”.

Saying he couldn’t ask for a better cast, Hale hopes everyone will fall in love with the community at the Opera House. “Every production after this one will be a breeze,” says Hale. The next production Hale produces with be this fall. “Cycle Oregon will come through Elgin this year and we are planning to coordinate the next big production with that,” says Hale. Already in the process of selecting a show, Hale hopes that he can have much of the same help he has had for this production back again. One of those he hopes will be Liberty O’Dell of EOU. O’Dell was one of Hale’s recruits from the college and had done what Hale calls a fantastic job of stage and set production.

Hale goes on to praise Jon Hanley and Todd Lungston who is new at set tech and has done what Hale calls an enormous job and says he has made great sacrifices to build this stage.

Husband and wife team of Sam and Rachael Jenkins have been instrumental in the production with Sam building the rose for the set, working lights and designing the pyrotechnics of the program. Rachael, along with Beckie Thompson-Hendrickson and Maureen Miller has done the choreography for the show. Hales states there are many other cast members who are acting as well as dedicating their time to build sets pieces.
“I want to thank so many people”, says Hale. “This hasn’t been just my project but a major collaboration of people.”

Though half sold out for the performance, good seats still remain for each performance. The public is also invited to the Be Our Guest Luncheon at the Elgin Community Center on Saturday April 5th at 12 Noon. Several characters will be on hand for photos and autographs. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased through the Elgin Opera House box office. For these ticket and tickets to the show or for more information about upcoming attractions at the Elgin Opera House please call 541.437.1918 or visit

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