A tale not so old as time


Andre Shoals, the chair, brought numerous characters to life in Chanhassen’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” such as an enchanted chair. (submitted photos)

It opens with just Andre on stage, setting up the rest of the beloved Disney musical. (submitted photos)

One of Andre’s favorite roles was when he got to play Sebastian in Chanhassen’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” (submitted photos)

Andre, fifth from the left in top row, didn’t start being part of musical theater until he moved back to Minnesota after living on the East Coast for a number of years. (submitted photos)

Local actor Andre Shoals returns to the Chanhassen stage in ‘Beauty and the Beast’

As the stage lights turn on at the main stage of Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, a lone figure sits on the side, getting ready to set the scene for “Beauty and the Beast.” 

All attention is on Andre Shoals, 45, who is the narrator and an ensemble member in Chanhassen’s new musical production of the fairy tale that was brought to life in a popular Disney animated movie. 

The talented Shoals is dressed in a cloth coat and scarf, a simple outfit that gives no hint of the inventive, colorful costuming that theater-goers are about to see in this visual feast for the eyes. 

In his other “Beauty” role, Shoals plays a chair. Attached to the chest of his shimmering silver costume is a chair, which at one point Belle sits in, as Shoals kneels and looks at her with admiration.

 

Kicking up his heels

For this Mendota Heights resident, being on stage isn’t something new.

He grew up in St. Paul and attended St. Paul Central High School. He says his performance career began in an unlikely way. 

In his sophomore year, he was taking a French class and discovered it wasn’t for him. So he decided to see his guidance counselor to switch classes. 

“Like most students, you get a hall pass and you don’t really do what you’re supposed to do,” Shoals says, laughing.

He remembers just hanging out in the basement area and walking past a dance class. He had female friends who were part of the class, and they suggested he enroll in dance. But at this point, there were no boys in the program. 

Shoals was hesitant, but the girls convinced him to just observe the class.

“I sat in on the class, and the teacher sort of persuaded me to take it. He was like ‘Well, just sign up. If you like it great, and if not give it a week and you can always switch class again,’” Shoals says.

He quickly discovered he had a knack for learning dance steps. This was the start of his love affair with performing arts. 

 

Making a career out of it

It wasn’t until he was a junior, after he had taken dance classes for a year, that Shoals began thinking about pursuing a performing arts career. 

It started when his dance teacher asked him if he had ever thought about becoming a professional dancer. 

Right after high school graduation, he received a dance scholarship for the Alvin Ailey School in New York City for the summer. Once he finished the intensive program, Shoals returned home and danced with the Zenon Dance Company from 1988 to 1990.

After getting a taste of the New York performing arts scene during that summer, Shoals says he knew he wanted to go back.

“Then I moved to New York to continue a career as a professional dancer,” Shoals says.

He lived in New York City for six years and worked with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Susan Marshall & Company and Jane Comfort & Company.

In 1996, Shoals says he began to experience burnout because at that point he was performing with two professional dance companies at the same time. 

“I had some friends from New York, who had moved to Boston, and they said ‘Well, what are you doing for the summer?’ I told them I was taking a little break from dancing,” Shoals remembers. They encouraged him to come to Boston for the summer. He decided not to return to the rigors of modern dance, and instead began working as a DJ in Boston nightclubs. 

A friend was starting a theater company in Boston and asked Shoals to be a part of it. Shoals and four acquaintances co-founded a fringe company called The Gold Dust Orphans Theater Company.

During his 14 years in Boston, Shoals worked with the company that put on four productions a year.

 

A homecoming

In 2010 Shoals pulled up stakes and returned to his home state. 

“I always said I’d move back to Minnesota around the time my parents were nearing retirement,” Shoals says.

Once here, he found himself at a crossroads, professionally. Having already decided he wasn’t going to be strictly a dancer, he says he sort of “fell” into musical theater.

He had done a little professional singing - jazz and rock — in New York, but musical theater was new to him. 

Shoals met a producer who was mounting a Rocky Horror show and asked him to audition for the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

“I auditioned, and he was like ‘It was great.’ All the songs sort of fit my voice very well, and I was like, ‘Oh, OK. I think I can do this,’” Shoals says.

That was the first production he did in the Twin Cities, and after that he started getting calls for other stage shows. It helped that he was the “new guy in town.”

 

It runs in the family

As a kid, Shoals says his family often joined relatives at his grandparents’ house, where the weekends would be filled with skits and singing.

“We would make recordings of short plays and were always dancing. We were always being creative. ... That was always a part of my life,” Shoals says. 

He adds there is nothing like being on stage and feeling an audience’s energy. But he also enjoys the process that leads up to a performance, including figuring out what things will work.

When he was dancing, everything was about movement and perfecting that. With acting, it was diving into certain characters and everything that went along with becoming that character.

“For musical theater, having to combine all three of those elements — movement, acting and singing — is just, it’s awesome,” Shoals says.

 

A range of hats

As the “Beauty and the Beast” narrator in the Chanhassen production, it’s up to Shoals to set the tone for the story. 

The challenge is to breathe life into it and give the narration a lot of color to make people excited to dive into a tale they’re already quite familiar with thanks to the Disney movie.

In 2014 he had the major role of Sebastian, the red crab, in Chanhassen’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

“That was awesome. I had such a blast doing that role,” Shoals says. “I would have to say that was probably my favorite.”

Shoals is often cast in roles where the character is fun loving, so he says it was a nice change to play a bad guy — Curtis — in Chanhassen’s “Sister Act,” this past winter.

“Most of the things I’ve done have been comedy based, so it was nice to play sort of the evil, mean villain,” Shoals says. 

 

Lessons learned 

Shoals says he doesn’t see himself ever giving up acting and performing. Throughout his career, Shoals says he has learned to give of himself, and be open and vulnerable.

“That can be really scary because you are really opening yourself up to people,” he explains. 

“If you’re able to do that and be true to yourself and the character you take on, you come out of it a better person.” 

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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