Beauty and the Beast orchestra to perform behind the scenes

Belle was forbidden from entering the West Wing in the castle of the Beast, for it contained an enchanted rose withering under glass.

There is a wing of the Prince George Playhouse that is verboten as well, as long as Beauty & The Beast performances are underway. This room is home to the live orchestra conducted by PGSO maestro Michael Hall. The orchestra is sequestered there and linked by technology to the action on the stage. The musicians are not in visual contact with the dancers and singers of the show, but they are all linked in live collaboration nonetheless.

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"It's a bit of a song and dance, ha!, but it is working out the way we hoped," said Jon Russell, who portrays the production's Beast character and is also acting as sound technician, his primary profession.

There are 24 microphones arranged around the stage expanse, feeding the singing and dialogue into the orchestra's room.

The musicians are likewise linked by 24 channels back to the stage and auditorium. Cameras and monitors also provide visual contact, but otherwise the musicians and dancers are in separate worlds.

Each show has its own configuration of orchestra and cast. In shows like the local productions of Tommy and Cabaret, the band was smaller and could be placed above the performance on a balcony above the stage.

In Chicago, done at Vanier Hall where the stage is larger, the musicians were assembled on the stage almost as part of the action.

For the majority of PG Playhouse (also Vanier Hall) performances, the orchestra is in a pit at the foot of the stage, sometimes requiring the removal of some front-row seats.

This time, since the technology was available, the production team experimented with an out-of-sight orchestra.

"Michael has never conducted for musical theatre before, and the fact he had the orchestra seamlessly connecting with the stage performer pretty much in the first real rehearsal is just a sign of how talented he is," said Matt Russell, performing as Gaston and also involved in the crew setting up the set. "He was locked in pretty much after the first run-through."

Jon Russell said the successful rehearsals were a weight off the minds of the stage crew and direction team because of the flesh and blood presence provided to an audience by the musicians.

"People have asked us, why don't you just use canned music? Wouldn't that be exactly right every time?" he said. "The answer is, the on-stage tempo changes from night to night. The delivery changes every single time. Lines get forgotten, or sometimes words will get added. Parts of the dialogue might get dropped, or rearranged. Dialogue might start early, a dancer might miss a cue. Even just the mood changes from show to show. Pre-recorded music cannot adapt to those organic things that happen in any show. And a live orchestra just sounds better, I'm sorry, that's just a fact. Recordings are a bit of a cop-out, I think. We have the musical talent right here in Prince George, so why not give the audience that level of quality?"

The curtain will open on Beauty & The Beast on Thursday with the run ongoing to July 27. Tickets are on sale now at all Central Interior Tickets platforms, including online purchasing for instant seat bookings 24 hours a day.

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