Thursday, June 23, 2016

Like Clockwork

We are halfway through our eight day (gasp) rehearsal process for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" here at Music Theatre Wichita.  "Nice Work If You Can Get It," which closed just a few days ago, was a great success, and I loved returning to my role of Cookie McGee; but of necessity, my preparation for Cogsworth had to take something of a back seat as we roared through the Roaring Twenties for delighted audiences that packed the Century II here in Wichita.  The nature of the beast (sorry, couldn't resist) that is this summer stock schedule, I find, is that as an actor I am finding things as I go along, especially as my Cogsworth works off of all the other characters in the piece.  However, I did do some preparation work when I found out I would be playing this goofy, veddy veddy British head of the household.  As usual, I stole ideas from the best!

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson

Cogsworth is to the Beast's castle what Mr. Carson is to Downton Abbey, for example.  There is something of an upstairs/downstairs hierarchy in "Beauty and the Beast," except that the staff of this castle are becoming strange household objects.  Cogsworth shares Mr. Carson's fussiness and insistence on decorum; but like Carson, he is, at heart, a sentimental softie.  I have borrowed some of these qualities from Jim Carter's wonderful portrayal.

C-3PO, Human/Cyborg Relations

The servants in the Beast's castle are morphing into objects that are reflections of their personas and their roles in the house: Lumiere, the flamboyant ladies' man, is becoming a candelabra; Mrs. Potts--warm, nurturing, also very British--is becoming a teapot. Cogsworth, who is all about precision and order, is becoming a mantle clock--one that is extremely tightly wound.  Learning the role, I've been greatly inspired by "Star Wars'" gleaming gold droid, C-3PO.  Like Cogsworth, he is easily flustered, absurdly logical and devoted to his master.  I also found inspiration in the work of C-3PO voice actor Anthony Daniels.

Eric Blore
The third influence I've drawn upon--and this should be no surprise to those who know me as a devout classic cinephile--is the ultimate British butler of 1930s Hollywood, actor Eric Blore.  You might remember his fabulous performances in Astaire/Rogers pictures like "Shall We Dance?" and "Top Hat."  His 'gentleman's gentleman' characters were always a little feisty, easily riled, and spoke with an exaggerated accent not even the toffiest toff would adopt.  He's been a great inspiration for Cogsworth.  Take a look at this scene for a sample of Blore's gifts, as he banters with another great classic character actor, Edward Everett Horton.

Some getup, huh?!

I admit that I am still finding my Cogsworth and I feel no little pressure to do justice to this now classic Disney character.  This is the 25th Anniversary of the animated film and the MTW production is a lavish, extravagant and heartfelt version, completely designed and crafted here at the theatre and directed with the elegant touch of Artistic Director Wayne Bryan.  I've been saying all week, as I have found myself curiously moved and excited by the show, that Disney knows how to get you!  As fantastical as the piece is, we have to bring complete sincerity and high stakes to the story and our characters.  This is a great challenge, especially when wearing, as I will, a large, stiff, cartoonish but very beautiful clock costume designed by Tiia Torchia.  

The seven performance run is nearly sold out as of this writing.  It is going to be one thrilling production--playing to an over 2000 member audience every show amidst a cast of over 60 performers, accompanied by a 26 piece orchestra.  This 'tale as old as time' will feel new, fresh and more magical than ever!

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