Beauty and the Beast is enchanting hearts at the Skylight Music Theatre and taking over Milwaukee box offices. The musical was also an unexpected catalyst in the love story of a Milwaukee power couple.
It all started in 2006 when John Owen’s dancing and Julie Ruth’s acting and singing led them both to perform on stage in Disney World’s production of Beauty and the Beast, with Julie as Beauty, a.k.a, Belle, and John as the Beast. Through twirls and turns, and a whole lot of talking off stage, John and Julie quickly bonded over their mutual desire to pursue medicine, a bond that turned into love, albeit without the rose-facilitated curse or the talking household objects that catalyzed their onstage counterparts.
When their offstage love bloomed, Ruth resided in Florida and Owen was traveling around the world. But the couple eventually decided to move to Milwaukee to pursue dual careers in medicine. Here, Ruth took the prerequisite courses needed for her admission to medical school and Owen began the nursing program at Milwaukee School of Engineering. Upon completing the program, Owen accepted an RN position at Froedtert Hospital as Ruth started medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). Eventually, Ruth graduated and began her residency in psychiatry with Owen entering MCW medical school soon after.
Like the eponymous couple, Julie and John enjoyed a happy ending. Their own fairy-tale wedding was held in 2008 and they celebrated the birth of their son John “Jack” Owens in 2014. Today, Julie works at the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division and John is finishing up Medical School. It’s almost unbelievable to think that their normal life in Milwaukee began when their paths crossed on stage during a production of Beauty and the Beast.
The power couple is likely to attend Skylight Music Theatre’s version of the popular story of a beauty forced to live in the palace of a beast and remember the days when their performances of those characters sparked their own incredible love.
With performances running through Sunday, March 26, Skylight presents a re-imagined Beauty and the Beast where the fairy tale is transformed into a visual spectacle onstage, featuring dance and larger-than-life puppetry. Audience ears are introduced to operatic sounds accompanied by a 13-piece orchestra.
The Skylight Music Theatre calls the musical a “visual feast,” with “dynamic scenery, lush costuming, and joyous dance.” Their version of the tale seeks to hold fast to the redemptive power of love that the original Beauty and the Beast fairy tale heralds.
The love for the tale extends far outside Milwaukee with the box-office-crushing release of the live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1991 animated film last Friday. Featuring prominent performers Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor, the film includes new songs by the animated version’s composer (and Disney legend) Alan Menken. Watson also portrays a more empowered Belle who strives to help young girls in her community and is given an extended backstory.
Though the versions of the tale differ between Skylight’s, the live-action adaptation’s and the Owens’ portrayals of Beauty and the Beast, Milwaukeeans seem to be hungry for the true message of the story: that inner beauty is what counts and that love can change lives forever. The Owens have realized this message in their own lives, as, we are sure, have many Milwaukeeans.