The show ran for three packed performances

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — Opera San Luis Obispo returned to the Performing Arts Center San Luis Obispo (PAC SLO) stage with Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The performances played a run of three shows over Mother’s Day weekend on Saturday, May 11, at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 12, at 2 p.m. This is just the second time in the opera company’s 40-year history that they have sold enough tickets to add a third show to their run.

“We had decided on a date. If we had sold [a certain] amount of tickets by that date, which was like a month out, we would add a show,” stated Stage Director Zach Johnson. “About a month out, we sold maybe 85 percent of our tickets or 90 percent of our tickets for the matinees. It just made sense to add the third show.” 

Atascadero News/Paso Robles Press was invited to join an audience filled with kids and adults who were excited to see OperaSLO’s take on a Disney classic come to life. Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” has seen three iterations in the past, including the original animated 1991 classic, the 1994 Broadway musical (which continues to tour on and off), and the 2017 live-action film. And what a time was had by everyone in the audience as we all watched a new version unfold before our eyes.


“It’s a little bit of a stretch for an opera company to do [Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’] or for this opera company to do, but I’m glad that I pitched it,” added Johnson, who had the original idea to perform the show. “I’m glad that people were receptive to it, and I think that we found a nice blend of a lot of the opera foundation [mixed] with a 1990 musical.”

The show was a gorgeous feast for the ears and eyes, with top-notch lighting design and beautiful sets. Maestro Brian Asher Alhadeff conducted the OperaSLO Grand Orchestra with a calculated precision that kept things familiar but added a unique and slightly darker hue to the musical production. The musicianship as a whole, from Alhadeff to the musicians in the orchestra, beautifully highlighted the vocal talents on stage. Johnson deftly directed his high-caliber cast in a collaborative way that brought out the best in the actors on stage and made it feel like they had all been working together much longer than they had been.

But it wasn’t everyone’s first time starring in their role on the PAC SLO stage. Hilary Maiberger, who played Belle, performed the title role in the national tour on the same stage in March 2012. In fact, she played Belle for two years nationally before launching Disney’s first international tour of any of their shows and taking Belle worldwide for a year. Maiberger’s Belle felt like she had slipped right out of the TV screen and onto the stage while also being uniquely hers.

“I’m just really excited to jump back into a role that changed my life,” Maiberger said. “About 12 years ago is when I played the role, and I have around 750 performances under my belt of this particular role. It’s been so incredibly exciting to revisit it, and it feels fresh and new, even though this role is so deep in my bones. It’s got a new breath of fresh air, and I’ve worked really, really hard to make sure that it has evolved since I last did it.” 

She added that wanting to share being Belle on stage with her niece and nephews, who were too young or not born yet when she was on tour before, was one of her main reasons for diving back into playing the Disney princess.

Grant Garry stepped into his dream role of the Beast with a humanity and a quiet dignity (mixed with a bit of self-loathing and anger) that drew the audience right in. His vocals shone, and his chemistry with Maiberger made you root for them from early on.

“I just love the journey that I can go on and take the audience with me,” Garry said. “To go from this really dark and angry side, sort of angry at the world, angry at myself, and then to find a love that can change your heart and having that sort of character arch is really, really fun to play. I don’t care what I, Grant, am feeling on stage, per se. I care what the audience is feeling, so if I can make them feel something, then I’m doing my job.”

Eric McConnell hopped on a plane and flew himself and his ringing baritone out from Denver, Colorado, to join the cast as everyone’s favorite playboy turned villain, Gaston. 

“This is my Disney villain debut. I keep saying that to people,” he said. “I’m a child of the ’90s, so I grew up watching the ’90s Disney movies over and over again on VHS. The villains are the best characters in most Disney movies, but especially those movies from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to ‘Tarzan.’ It’s always been a dream of mine to be a Disney villain, and we made it.”

The rest of the extremely talented cast, which consisted of opera and musical theater vocalists, was made up of Aaron Ellis as LeFou, Larry Kaml as Maurice, Mandi Barrus as Mrs. Potts, Gregory Gorrindo as Lumiere, John Laird as Cogsworth, Zanna Wyant as Babette/Enchantress, Karen Dunn as Madame LGB, Eva Alhadeff as Chip, and Jim Brescia as Monsieur D’Arque, as well as 33 amazing ensemble members.

“Our overall cast, our ensemble, and our secondary leads are just fantastic, whether they be from the area or if we brought them in from out of the area to dance or whatnot,” Johnson added. “It’s a really charming cast, and they’re all very talented, and they all bring something to the table and this really lovely energy that makes the room easy to navigate and a space that you want to work in.”

OperaSLO will return to PAC SLO on Saturday, Oct. 19, and Sunday, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m. for their version of George Bizet’s Carmen. 

Featured Image: (From left) Karen Dunn (Madame LGB), Hilary Maiberger (Belle), John Laird (Cogsworth), Grant Garry (The Beast), Gregory Gorrindo (Lumiere), and Mandi Barrus (Mrs. Potts) perform on the PAC SLO stage in OperaSLO’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Photo by Len Wood