The silver is polished, the table is set and the staff is ready to serve you at this year’s 7th Grade production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr. on March 19-21.
Based on the classic fairytale and adapted from the Broadway musical, Beauty and the Beast, Jr. tells the story of beautiful Belle (played by Emma Rowland), who is imprisoned by the Beast (Benjamin Pixley) in exchange for the release of her father, Maurice (Warren Hansel). The Beast is actually a young prince who is trapped under the spell of an enchantress. Time is running out as the Beast must learn to love and be loved before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose, or he will be doomed forever.
Local ruffian Gaston (played by Noah Bruns) and his sidekick LeFou (August Lee-Kovach) are determined to kill the Beast and save Belle, so they engage the villagers to storm the castle and free her. While Gaston devises his own plan to marry Belle, the staff of spellbound servants in the castle attempt to teach the Beast how to win her affection before it is too late.
The cast of bewitched domestics features Tudor Rosca as the candlestick, Lumiere; Wren Woroby as Cogsworth the clock; Haley Hicks as feather duster Babette; Linnea Sidell as the wardrobe, Madame De La Grande Bouche; and Ada Sprong and Michael Fink as the mother-son team of Mrs. Potts and Chip. The story unfolds with the help of narrators Mairead Shea, Gavin Darling, Caroline Haskell and Aidan Hickey. The lovestruck trio who long for Gaston’s attention are Josie Wigton, Courtney Kalkstein, and Sophia Fiorenza. Suhani Khandelwal casts the dreaded spell as the Enchantress, and Ryder Brady, as Monsieur D'arque, is proprietor of the lunatic asylum where Maurice is imprisoned.
Talent Runs Deep
According to director Linda St. Francis, the producers chose this show as it allows many talented performers to have special moments to shine. “We chose Beauty and the Beast for this 7th grade class because it has several fun all-cast numbers, which truly are the best moments for the students. For me, the idea of seeing the entire class perform ‘Be Our Guest’ was a big draw!”
Producer Jennifer Rowland agrees. “We chose this show because there are so many options for leads and so many opportunities for kids to be on stage. It was important to us that as many students as possible be involved.” 61 students are participating in the show, with 45 cast as actors and 16 as crew. In order to recruit so many students, the producers started early, making connections and trying to figure out roles for everyone based on their strengths and interests.
Talent runs deep in this year’s 7th grade class, with many of the students having some previous theatrical experience. “This year I was especially impressed with the number of talented cast members we had to choose from when casting the show,” said Linda. “I also love that this class has been very supportive of one another. 7th grade can be a tough age, but these kids really seem to be a kind and respectful group.”
Backstage talent is just as critical to the success of the show, so students who were interested in crew roles are being trained to cover all aspects of technical production including lighting, sound, set design, and costuming. Jennifer added, “This is a big show to take on. It was important to the director and the producers that this be the kids’ show, so we have invited cast and crew to help with costumes, props and set creation. Catherine and Bill Fink have even given up two floors of their home so students can work on sets in their basement and props and costumes on the first floor. ”
The Creative Team
Director Linda St. Francis is no stranger to the 7th Grade play. “I moved to Carlisle in 2007, when my oldest daughter was in 7th grade and helped out backstage with Willy Wonka. In 2012, I helped produce and was stage manager for my younger daughter’s play, Bye Bye Birdie. From then on I was hooked! The next year I stage managed the show, even though I had no student in that class! After that I decided I wanted to try my hand at directing, and fortunately the Class of 2014 gave me a shot directing High School Musical. This will be my 7th show as director.”
There are many challenges to face when directing a large group of students and parents, many of whom have little or no theater experience. Linda said, “Stage directing the 7th Grade play is a unique job. Every year is like starting a new theater company. New producers, new set designer, new costume designer, new everything! My initial role is to mentor the producers and chiefs and then let them run with it. I am fortunate to have Kendra Thyne (Choreographer and Assistant Stage Director) and Amanda Hammond-Kern (Music Director) again on the creative team. The 7thGrade play is not a drama club. Most of the students are not natural performers and many of them need help finding and bringing out their ‘inner performer.’ It can be a challenge, but when it happens, it’s a joyous thing!”
Parent Volunteers Make it Happen
Traditionally, the annual 7th grade play is a completely volunteer-run production, led by a team of parent producers who hire a creative staff to lead the artistic direction while volunteers manage the rest. This year’s producers are Kim Boschi, Marsha Cervantez, Catherine Fink, and Jennifer Rowland.
Jennifer is, “loving it all! It has been exciting to be behind the scenes and see how much these kids have already achieved since the first week of rehearsals in January. I have seen so many accomplishments and growth every single day.”
At rehearsal last week, Catherine noted that she was eager to get involved with this year’s play. She was a co-producer herself in 2017 so is familiar with how many volunteer hours go into a production. Catherine said, “In addition to all the positives that the students get from their participation,the parent bonding that happens over the course of the show is also special. In this day when there are so many working parents, it has been great to connect with other parents, many of whom I have hardly seen since kindergarten.”
Jennifer noted that it has been difficult to find volunteers, and more are always welcome. “We always need parents to assist as chaperones during rehearsal,” she said. “With so many moving parts, chaperones truly help keep the flow of rehearsal moving. It’s also a great opportunity to get a sneak peek at the show!”
Many parents have generously contributed time to design and build sets, props and create the over 100 different costumes used in the production. More parents help with hair and makeup, lights, sound, tickets, front of house, photography, lobby display, cast and crew party, publicity, advertising, t-shirts and videos. Parents also assist backstage during the shows to make sure microphones are in place, entrances are on time and set and prop pieces are all in position. “The backstage parents and I often dance and lip synch in the wings during the big numbers,” quips Linda. “We silently fist pump at every laugh and lusty applause the audience gives, and high five when the cast and crew have perfectly executed a very difficult scene. We are a pretty comical sight to see!”
While you may not be able to see what’s happening backstage, you will not want to miss this production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr.
Thursday, March 19 at 4:00pm, Friday, March 20 and Saturday, March 21 at 7:00pm. Corey Auditorium, Carlisle Public Schools. Tickets are $10 and are available at ticketstage.com, at Ferns Country Store, and from all Carlisle 7th grade students.