10 years of theatrical magic: "Beauty and the Beast" opens in Fairhope

By Allison Marlow
Managing Editor
Posted 5/3/23

FAIRHOPE — Ten years ago, Erin Langley was simply trying to find a place to reach a larger audience. A place that would draw the community to local theater.What was a shot in the dark has …

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10 years of theatrical magic: "Beauty and the Beast" opens in Fairhope


FAIRHOPE — Ten years ago, Erin Langley was simply trying to find a place to reach a larger audience. A place that would draw the community to local theater.

What was a shot in the dark has become an annual tradition as Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre celebrates its 10th-annual Theatre on the Bluff show this week with a production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

That first show, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," came on the heels of historical regional flooding. The cast and crew then weren't sure there would even be a production.

The rain slowed and the group saw the stage silhouetted against the sun dipping behind Mobile Bay for the first time.

It was magic.

"We didn't realize how beautiful the sunset would be behind us until we got out there and saw what was happening," Langley said. "We just said, 'this is amazing'."

Each year the spring show has grown in both production size and audience attendance. Many sell out online days in advance, as is the case with this weekend's lineup. For a chance at a ticket, get in line early.

Langley, ESRT founder and artistic director, said the bluff show has become a go-to event for the Eastern Shore because it represents the best of what the area has to offer.

"We're able to use the beauty of our natural resource of Mobile Bay and the talent that lives here," she said. "It's just this beautiful collaboration between everything good in our community."

That talent is a blend of all ages from elementary school students to adults who morph into the villagers and magical creatures that live in the world of Belle. The ability to pull together such a varied cast is one of the theater companies' proudest achievements.

"We have people who represent all different stages of life from all different jobs," Langley said. "It's a very eclectic blend of Eastern Shore personalities and a chance to see all of our neighbors on stage. Everyone in the audience will probably know somebody who is performing."

"Beauty and the Beast" was slated to be the bluff show in 2021 but was cancelled due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Langley said initially she was hesitant to revive a show that was full of memories of disappointment for the cast and crew that had worked tirelessly through pandemic-era protocols to continue to perform.

She knew, however, that the magical tale would excite both the cast and the audience.

"We felt like the community needed something classic and enjoyable for families and all ages. "Beauty and the Beast" really fit the bill. It's a perfect show to celebrate our tenth year. I can't think of another show that is as iconic, lavish or memorable," she said.

Theatergoers will find this weekend that the dive into Belle's little town has more costumes, more intricate scenes and more lighting effects than any past bluff productions. The costumed castle staff who spend years rusting as household items are especially opulent and visually stunning.

Last year when ESRT staged "Pippin" on the bluff, cast members dazzled the crowds with magic tricks and special effects. The storyline, however, was less known and the cast was challenged first and foremost with conveying that storyline to the audience.

This year, the challenge is to make the story dazzle.

"Everybody has seen a version of the show somewhere so to make it different and memorable is really the challenge," she said.

The next decade for ESRT holds more challenges, more growth and more shows, Langley said. The group will stage "Anastasia" this fall, and auditions will be held in early August.

"It's been a long journey, but it also seems like it's gone by in the blink of an eye," she said.