The lyrics are familiar: “A tale as old as time.” That tale will transport the audience on a captivating journey of the beautiful Belle and the ghastly Beast in Portsmouth West High School’s upcoming production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
”Beauty and the Beast” is one of those musicals you can see again and again, and many have. This year, the production is presented across Mothers Day weekend at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts on the Shawnee State University campus, and is the perfect gift for that special person in your life.
The PWHS students would love to see mothers come with their daughters, and the experience would be even more special if the young ladies were to wear their Belle or princess costumes to watch the play. The production group has been involved in plays on Mothers Day before, but this could make it quite different than what has been done in the past — looking out across the audience and seeing all the “Belles.”
As the story goes, a young handsome Prince who is overcome with arrogance and selfishness, was transformed into the Beast, and as further punishment, his entire staff was turned into simple animated appliances. Hunter Maynard portrays the handsome, arrogant young Beast, and Alec Arnett, with his intense transformation, plays the older, miserable Beast.
The physical transformation of his household staff into various animated objects, such as Lumiere’ (portrayed by Seth Shepherd), will provide multiple sing-along moments in the production. Luminere’s (Shepherd) performance in “Be Our Guest” will have you singing aloud with the actors as he transcends the massive stairway in the older, formerly grand castle. Shepherd, another of the most talented actors, says, “I don’t have to be a dynamic, feely, emotional character like in “Les Miserables.” I’m more the comic relief in this show, and I really dig that. In regards to playing to a younger audience, for me it will help me get into character, because they are not looking at us as these people are in their actual everyday lives, but this is an actual story that is really going to help us.” Shepherd is one of those seniors who intends to continue his future with theater.
Director Linda Tieman utilizes more than 50 cast members in the fast-paced musical where the lesson of looking beyond physical appearances and learning to see inner beauty is told through song and an incredible, moveable set. A 12-piece orchestra and remarkable vocals make the experience one expected to be seen on 42nd Street and Broadway.
Speaking with four of the seniors that are once again main characters — Arnett, Austin Scott, Addison Guilliams and Shepherd — these wonderfully talented young actors will surely be missed by Tieman’s music department. Their voices alone will make for a tough act to follow. They all say it is bittersweet, as this is their last play, and that they, too, will miss this, but they are ready to take on their next journey of their lives. This group states they still had to try out in front of a panel, and that the biggest line were those young ladies who wanted to play Belle. Guilliams says, “Every single one of the others could have played the part very well, so I said I’ve got to really kick it in gear, and I definitely did.” She says she would wake up at night out of a dead sleep and start singing one of the songs she was to sing. However, as a seasoned singer and actress, she landed the part and will portray a beautifully talented Belle. Guilliams says she also loves the idea of the young ladies wearing their Belle costumes to watch the play.
Arnett, as the Beast, says playing this part is interesting, because the Beast is a dynamic character, the most dynamic character he’s ever played, and that says quite a lot, as he played Jean Val Jean, in “Les Miserables” in the winter production. “It’s almost like playing two different people, because in Act 1, he is really hostile, and then he begins to tone down and become charming. It’s really an exploration of emotions.”
The heroine, Belle (Guilliams) is a well-known, book-loving, soft-spoken, beautiful and most eligible young lady in the small village. The audience soon comes to learn she has been imprisoned by the Beast, the same Beast who had previously imprisoned her father. Belle had nobly offered to take the place of her father, and was, therefore, banished into captivity inside the castle by the Beast.
The beautiful Belle had been repeatedly proposed to by Gaston (Scott), the village’s most eligible bachelor. But the studious, book-loving Belle had not succumbed to Gaston’s charms. Gaston and his sidekick, LeFou (Levi Kouns) have some very memorable scenes. LeFou brings both humor and endearment to his performance. Scott says he is looking forward to playing this part, and that once he landed the part, he was ready to portray Gaston with all his charms. Scott is another super-talented young man with a voice that many have come to admire. Kouns was first introduced this year as the sort of comic relief in “Les Miserables,” and he once again gets to show that side of himself. But, he says, “It is a different role than I played in ‘Les Miserables.’ In this, I play a stupid funny.”
Anna Lovins is playing a shared role of Babbett, with Alicia Smith, just as they did in “Les Miserables,” where one plays her one night, and then they switch. “It’s pretty fun, because it’s fun, but a little more challenging because you have to learn both the choreography and blocking in the line and the ensemble part,” Smith says. “It’s nice to see us both play the part in our own way, and yet they come out the same and we can learn from each other.”
The village becomes an integral part of this production with movable sets and a large castle that fills the stage with a magical place for the now-animated grandfather clock (Dalton Pertuset), teapots, feather dusters and, most of all, when the everyday items come into their own through music and song. Multiple times the entire stage fills with actors as they move effortlessly through the timeless lyrics and storyline. Pertuset, also a senior, says of this play, “It is sad that this will be my last one with Mrs. Tieman, but I look forward to it at the same time.”
Senior Jordan Willis plays the part of the wardrobe. She was an opera singer before the spell thing happened, so she is still very dramatic and loud. Willis has a very strong wonderful voice that she will portray fantastically with this character.
“This is an unusually busy year for the PWHS theater department, as we started rehearsals almost immediately after completing two sold-out performances of ‘Les Miserables.’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is truly a crowd favorite with the memorable music and lyrics, and this cast captures both the lighthearted segments as well as the genuinely emotional scenes,” says Tieman, the director who continually puts on these plays in a manner so many people admire.
Many of these students have been working together since their freshman year, and the Mothers Day performance will be the final one for many of these talented actors and musicians. Several will continue their study of the arts in college, while others will pursue careers in nursing, teaching and many other fields.
The days are often very long with many rehearsals, often not ending until mid-evening, and often continuing on weekends. The commitment shown by these young actors never waivers, and it is evident in their performances.
Cast members include Arnett, Maynard, Guilliams, Kouns, Scott, Pertuset, Shepherd, Willis, Charlize McClurg, Zoe-Hannah Rawlins, Abigail Hazelbaker, Alexis VanDyke, Jessica Guilkey, Dacota Wetmore, Charles Evans, Jacob Bays, Taylor Pennington, Jenna Mullens, Evan Green, Uriah VanDyke, Mariah Stegall, Katie Woten, Layla McGinnis, Ivy Ferguson, Hayden Runyons, Ashlynn Pfau, Lexie Collins, Haven Hileman, Bailee Wiremann, Jalynn Williams, Alicia Smith, Anda Lovins, Fern Musick, Trista Ball, Brock Journey, Layla McCleese, Kylee Ratcliff, Austin Grizzell, Bryson Ratcliff, Beekrid Frost, Mason Book, Bryson Hall, Madison Howard, Cameron Davis, Haleigh Williams, Ethan Marasek, Nick Gray, Caleb Hazelbaker, Ryan Thompson, Zack Neal, Gary Jenkins and Cole Tackett. Under the Direction of Tieman, with set designs by Gary Tieman and Ed Engles, costume design by Becky Lovins and orchestra direction by Josh Stewart.
The production runs Friday through May 14 at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts. Tickets are available online at the vrcfa.org or at the door.
Debbie Gambill contributed to this story.
Reach Kimberly Jenkins 740-353-3101 ext. 1928