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Ligonier seniors present 'Beauty and the Beast'

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

The Footlights Youth Troupe production of Disney's “Beauty and the Beast” will be shown at the Ligonier Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20 and 2:30 p.m. Sept. 21-22. Natalie Christopher will play Belle alongside Alex Jabbour as Beast, with Tyler Short playing the villainous Gaston as well as the entire ensemble of transformed furniture and house wares.

With a cast of around 30 performers, ages 7 to 17, theater executive director Eric Harris said this is one of the largest shows for the youth troupe, adding that he likes choosing big musical shows for the kids to put on.

“I like to incorporate everybody that comes out,” Harris explained. “If they audition, I think they should get a part in the show. I try to do the bigger productions so everybody gets a chance to be on stage and do something. It keeps the interest built up in the theater.”

Directors Ruthie Stewart and Hannah Kenyon, both 17, said the Footlights' portrayal of the classic Disney tale will include many big dance numbers and elaborate costumes that the audience will enjoy watching.

“I love Disney shows. Everybody loves Disney shows,” Stewart stated. “I'm really excited to see the people coming in, the little girls that are going to come in and they are going to see Belle and actually be able to see her and meet her in real life. That's such an amazing experience.”

Kenyon and Stewart are directing the play as part of their high school senior project. The duo had originally planned to produce and direct their own show at the theater, but were offered the chance to take the helm for “Beauty and the Beast” to minimize the cost to use the theater and pay for the rights to the musical.

“It started with a ‘Wouldn't it be cool if' idea that we actually got to do. We got really lucky that Eric was willing to take us on,” Stewart commented.

The two have a great deal of experience in the Ligonier Theater, with Stewart acting in many productions and even assistant directing “The Pirates of Penzance, Jr.” in 2011, and Kenyon working as a stage manager since she was 12 years old. However, the two young directors said they did not realize the scale of the project, as well as the minute details that go into running a show in its entirety.

“There are lots of decisions to make. I wouldn't say it's harder than we expected, but more stressful and overwhelming than we anticipated. There is a lot involved in it,” Kenyon admitted. “Besides just directing the show — blocking and choreographing the whole thing — there's the set to get ready, plus the costumes, props, finding someone to do the curtain and make set changes and lights and sound.”

Stewart noted that one of the most difficult parts for her was the casting process. Specifically, she said, having to choose parts for friends and newcomers in a way that was fair and would make for the best possible show.

“I do shows with a lot of these kids and a lot of these kids are new. It's really hard to sit on the other side of the table for once and having to judge people who you are best friends with. That was really hard for me,” Stewart said.

Despite the learning curve, Stewart and Kenyon have managed the large cast with the help of teenage cast members, who have stepped up to help organize younger kids on and off stage to ease the pressure. They have also had the safety net of Harris, who was originally scheduled to direct, but has stepped back into a supervisory role for the young directors.

“They're doing a great job. They work real well together and they're doing real well with the kids. Everyone's been very cooperative,” Harris said. “Some of the choreography that Ruthie has come up with is amazing. She's got them rolling around and ending up in spots and I'm saying ‘how did they do that? How did she think of that?' I think this will be one of the best productions we've done so far for Footlights.”

For more information, call the theater at 724-238-6514.

Peter Turcik is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.