WATERLOO — Neal Petersen will be in trouble if his nose starts to itch.
As the Beast in the Waterloo Community Playhouse’s upcoming production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” the actor’s natural features will be concealed beneath layers of stage prosthetics and makeup.
Petersen’s transformation into the hairy, gruff and sometimes terrifying Beast takes 40 to 45 minutes for each performance. The musical opens July 12 on the Hope Martin Theatre stage.
“I’ve never performed in prosthetics before, so that’s been a whole new thing. I sit in the chair and a makeup artist uses spirit glue to attach a heavy brow line, jaw and chin. It takes a little while to get it all on, and it feels a little weird,” said Petersen, who is a mental health counselor.
In the midst of July’s heat and high humidity, the actor’s skin must be kept bone-dry — and he must contort his face – so the spirit gum will properly adhere and seal the prosthetics to his skin. “So I’m sitting there, looking at the makeup designer and doing weird expressions with my face. After the prosthetics are attached, then makeup is applied to blend it all in, and of course, the eyes have to be done, too,” he said.
Brittany Stone is in charge of the makeup and hair design crew. Costume designer is Jana Fairbanks.
Petersen will be the Beast for a total of 13 shows — nine public performances, an invitational dress rehearsal and three dress rehearsals.
Prosthetics were ordered especially for the Beast’s role, says Director Greg Holt. The jaw and chin piece includes a set of seriously large canine teeth and doesn’t affect the actor’s ability to talk, sing or move. He’ll also wear a hood fitted with horns and a fur costume.
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“The Beast is a strenuous role with movement, dancing and singing, so he’ll basically be sweating to death under the rubber prosthetics, makeup and costume. It has to be removed very carefully each night so the skin or the pieces aren’t damaged,” Holt said.
Petersen, Holt also noted, has “an amazing operatic voice.”
Petersen describes his character as “wonderfully flawed. For a romantic lead, it’s not a typical role. He hasn’t known a lot of kindness in his life. He’s a beast, but he’s got the heart of a lover, not a fighter. I’m hoping to show his softer side, and he can be goofy, too, so that’s fun to play.”
The actor admits he feels “pretty ferocious” with his makeup and horns, and he’s enjoyed startling his fellow cast members like Jacob Haag, who plays the Prince. “He walked into the makeup area to talk to someone and saw me — honestly, it was the best reaction. Everyone involved in the show is awesome,” Petersen said.
Holt deliberately cast two separate actors as the Beast and Prince. “If the same actor has to transform from the Beast to the Prince, you’re limited in what you can do to create the Beast other than wear a full head that he pulls off to become the prince. I wanted the transition to appear seamless to the audience,” he explained.
Music director is Jessica Lieb, and Christine Dornbusch is choreographer. Mike Ingram is the lighting designer with Scott Schuster as technical director.
WCP is performing Disney’s Broadway version of “Beauty and the Beast,” which includes such favorite songs as “Tale as Old as Time,” composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman, and additional songs composed by Menken with lyrics by Tim Rice.
A new projection system will allow animated scenes to play in the background. Several props, such as the red rose in the glass case, have been rented for the production, Holt said. The director also designed the stage set.