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In ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ even the costumes are characters

Ann Hould-Ward, who designed the Tony Award-winning costumes for the 1994 Broadway debut of “Beauty and the Beast,” has worked with plenty of fascinating source material.

For the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park With George,” she worked off of Georges Seurat’s pointillist painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” to produce period-perfect costumes straight out of 1884 Paris. For Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” she pieced together an inventive collection from the pages of Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm.

And her costumes for “Beauty and the Beast,” which opens a six-day run in Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, were based largely on the fantastical creations of Disney animators, whose 1991 version of the film remains one of the most popular children’s films of all time.

Because the 1994 production was Disney’s first attempt at a Broadway musical, its creative team was treated to an unusually long development period and generous budget, which gave Hould-Ward the opportunity to delve deeply into the minds of the characters and the animators who created them.

“I was lucky enough to go out and meet all the original animators and speak to them about how they developed the characters and what was of interest to them. So that became a major reference point in the research for doing the show,” Hould-Ward said in a phone interview late last year. “Then we kind of went back and did all of the historical research, which of course they had done too in their own way, and then kind of put all of that together into the recipe, into the mix of what we were making for Broadway.”

What emerged from that process was one of the more eye-popping costume parades ever to grace a Broadway stage. From the character of Cogsworth, whose costume included a functioning clock on the actor’s face, to the candle-handed Lumiere and a formal getup for the Beast that accentuates his satyr-like stance, Hould-Ward’s work on the show came closer to bringing the creative potential of animation into three dimensions than any previous Broadway production.

In “Beauty and the Beast” more than most other shows, the costumes dictate the contours of the characters – which can be both a benefit and a challenge for actors trying to put their own stamp on the iconic characters.

“The costume becomes an icon in which the actor is developing their own version of it. It’s a very different thing when you’re initially developing it than what it becomes when it goes in different tours,” Hould-Ward said. “One hopes that if you’ve been a good designer, that they’re able to put on that costume and collect from what you’ve done a real sensibility of who the character is, and that then they’re able to take that and develop their own map based on that.”

Some actors struggle to project human emotions through the substantial makeup and costumes the Beast wears, but Darick Pead, who plays the Beast opposite Hillary Maiberger as Belle, views all those layers of fabric and foundation as an ideal challenge for his character.

“It’s really great to have that, because that’s what the Beast is trying to do,” Pead said. “He’s trying to emote past all this crap, and the idea that there’s nothing else besides this ugly person that you see. So that’s kind of something that’s actually helping me.”

For Hould-Ward, whose creations for “Beauty and the Beast” have made their way into innumerable student, amateur and professional productions across the United States and the world, letting go of her work is a tough but essential part of the creative process.

“Ideally we’d like to be in every fitting room and there for every rehearsal period of our given shows. It’s just that we’re not really able to do that worldwide,” she said. “As a designer, I think we’re always trying to give the actor those tools that they can go forth with and create their own interpretation.”

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