News Column

Going to Potts: IWU alumna joins the tea party, Disney-style

October 10, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 10--Yes, she's playing a teapot.

Formerly a human, until an enchantment did a number on her and the rest of the household.

Now she has hips for days.

And don't get her going on what's it done to her arms, one now thin as a handle, the other as plump as a spout.

Could be worse, though.

In terms of complex makeup and costuming, Kristin Stewart agrees that she definitely has it easier than the titular hairy half of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast."

The national tour of the long-running hit makes its first-ever Twin Cities stop for a single performance Wednesday in the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for Stewart, an Illinois Wesleyan University alumna brewing up a fresh performance as Mrs. Potts, ex-cook turned by a magic spell into a teapot.

But a teapot with more than whistle in her spout: She gets the most famous song in the show's score, based, of course, on the 1991 Disney animated hit.

The title ballad, "Beauty and the Beast," is sung by Mrs. Potts as Beauty and Beast do their ballroom dance thing (in the movie, legendary actress Angela Lansbury voiced the character).

By coincidence, Stewart, Class of 2003, will be arriving several short blocks south of the IWU campus just a few days too late for homecoming weekend.

The popular show's hectic touring schedule will allow her no leeway to attend the Big Game Saturday or, she says, anything else.

Still, she agrees, she owes it all to IWU.

In fact, "I'd like to say thank-you, Illinois Wesleyan University, for my career, and my continuing employment."

The self-described "former Iowa farm girl" -- not to be

confused with the "Twilight" actress of the almost-same name (KRISTEN Stewart) -- cut her performing teeth with a summer music program called the State Fair Singers and Jazz Band, "a glorified show choir," she says that, in the end, led her to IWU.

A fellow choir member passed on the skinny about the Bloomington school's expertise in honing musical theater skills.

It was love at first sight.

"My first visit to the campus (1999) was so great and welcoming ... it just felt right," she recalls. "I came from a small town, so Bloomington wasn't too big or scary, but it was large enough to have a little competition and allow me to make some lovely friends."

During her training, which involved, in equal measures, the disciplines of theater, music and dance, Stewart found herself before audiences, singing with the Collegiate Choir and cast in assorted theater offerings, culminating in showy turns in 2001's "Little Shop of Horrors" (as heroine Audrey) and the same year's "Cabaret," one of the edgier shows on an IWU stage up to that point.

A taste of things to come came in her debut appearance on an IWU stage, via the experimentally prone Lab Theatre, where she wound up doing a 20-minute solo monologue in Christopher Durang's "Durang Durang" as one Mrs. Sorken, in her 60s -- a hint of the character roles to come, the current, similarly-aged Mrs. Potts included.

"It was just me on stage delivering a character by myself, which was something I thought not possible to do before," Stewart recalls. "It was a test of my comfortability on stage, relying on what I'd learned in class. Very daunting."

And exciting.

With dedicated IWU mentors like John Ficca, Tom Ossowski, and J. Scott Ferguson, she says, her multidisciplinary skills were developed to the degree that upon her 2003 graduation, "I was able to hit the ground running ... I wanted to move to New York, and did."

She quickly found herself in the first of what would become, ever since, something of an annual tradition: landing a role in a big national touring production of a hit show.

The first was the season-specific "A Christmas Carol," as female lead Belle, followed by the likes of "The Wizard of Oz" (Glinda), "The Full Monty" (Vicki Nichols), "Hairspray" (Velma VonTussle) and as Tammy Wynette in "Stand By Your Man."

Having just begun her "Beauty and the Beast" run a month or so ago, Stewart's enviable employment record continues apace.

"There's one consistency in theater ... that inevitable concern of employment at the end of the road, and I've definitely had some luck in this," she agrees.

From her IWU debut as Christopher Durang's sixtysomething "Mrs. Sorken" to her current turn as an all-singing, all-dancing Disney teapot, "I've grown comfortable with character roles ... I'd love every opportunity under the sun, but it's my niche."

And working for Disney, she says she can definitely feel the magic.

"You really do feel like you've become a part of something much bigger."

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At a glance

What: National tour of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast"

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, 600 N. East St.

Tickets: $59 to $85

Information: 866-686-9541

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Stage entrances

Since her graduation from Illinois Wesleyan University a decade ago, Kristin Stewart has been a part of 11 nationally touring musicals, including "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," arriving Wednesday at the BCPA for a one-night stand. Local theatergoers might remember her from these popular IWU main stage offerings in McPherson Theatre, circa 2001-2 and recalled here via Pantagraph reviews singling out her work:

Afraid of Frankenstein: "Among the players, Kristin Stewart and Andrew J. Schneider stand out as the weary Martino parents ..."

Little Shop of Horrors: "Stage and screen star Ellen Greene would be flattered by the tribute paid her by leading lady Kristin Stewart, whose Audrey looks all too familiar."

Cabaret: "The four actors who carry the script's dramatic weight -- Sarah Johnson as chanteuse Sally, Scott Moreau as sexually ambiguous Cliff, Kristin Stewart as sweet landlady Fraulein Schneider, and Kenneth E. Pierce as Fraulein Schneider's kindly (Jewish) love interest -- are all strong, acting their songs as well as singing them."

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(c)2013 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)

Visit The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) at www.pantagraph.com

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