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Arts Alive! podcast: Helen R. Murray, American Stage

Bill DeYoung



The curtain comes up on American Stage’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast tonight at Demens Landing, and Producing Artistic Director Helen R. Murray is thrilled.

The every-April “park musical,” in the middle of the theater’s season, is always a crowd magnet. And it’s the first “park show” Murray, who joined American Stage in October 2022, chose herself (the previous season was programmed by her predecessor, and she inherited it when he left).

So Beauty and the Beast is a big one. “I also wanted to make it a family-friendly affair,” Murray explains on this edition of our Arts Alive! podcast. “And I don’t know that I’ll do that every year, but I really did want to bring something to ‘park’ that could celebrate our community in a really big, arms-open kind of way. So I thought Beauty and the Beast would be the perfect one.

“And also, Belle is just one of those princesses I really can get behind. She’s really smart. She is the savior of that story – she’s not rescued, she does the rescuing all the way throughout.”

Not that American Stage needed rescuing, but Murray’s arrival – from the Aurora Fox Arts Center in Denver – certainly wafted some much-needed fresh creative air in St. Pete’s direction.

Her programming thus far this season, from Acts of Faith to Indecent to The Chinese Lady, has been bold and provocative.

Then there’s Beauty and the Beast. Murray likes to say mixing “entertainment and challenge” is an effective way to keep the audience coming back.

“I like magic onstage. We go to see moments of wonder. That’s why we want to see something live, because there’s something that is really ephemeral in the exchange of audience and live performer.

“So when we reach those perfect moments of wonder – it doesn’t have to be a huge tech moment, it can be a line perfectly said, it can be when the audience all catches up to the story that’s being told, and they all have an a-ha moment.

“These are the things that I look for, and I do feel very solidly that I’m able to recognize those pieces.”

Click on the arrow to listen to the interview.






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