'Beauty and the Beast JR.' to take Pine-Richland Middle School stage

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Pine-Richland Middle School Drama Club's spring production of “Disney's Beauty and the Beast JR.” promises to be bigger and better than ever.

With 70 students in the production, the highest number in recent years, and a stage crew of 15, codirector Joy Hess said the seventh- and eighth-graders are excited to put their show on stage before a crowd.

“The kids are super excited,” she said. “They just can't wait.”

The students are performing a junior adaptation of the musical based on the animated Disney film of the same name. It will run about an hour with no intermission.

The show will begin at 7 p.m. on April 29, 30 and May 1, and tickets are $5 at the door for unreserved seating.

“Beauty and the Beast” follows Belle, a smart, book-loving young woman, as she tries to warm the heart of the Beast, a prince who has been transformed into a monster by an enchantress.

Performing a show based on a beloved movie is no easy task, Hess said, especially when it comes to the costumes.

“People have a preconceived notion about what everything should look like,” she said. “But as it goes on, people adjust.”

For the students in principal roles, the production has been a great learning experience in character development. For some it means going out of their comfort zones to find the heart of their character.

Bryan Bails, 13, is playing the Beast, which, he said, doesn't match his personality at all. For his first production and leading role, he has been working on sounding gruff and surly, but it takes some practice.

“I'm not very mean,” Bryan admitted. “But I like trying to be mean. I like a challenge, I guess.”

Michael McNamara, 14, who plays the villain, Gaston, said his role has been vocally demanding but enjoyable with all it intricacies.

“It's fun to be a villain, but he's the exact opposite of who I am,” Michael said.

For others, their characters are so like their personalities, it sometimes is hard to separate them.

Mackenzie Perry, 14, who's playing Madame de la Grande Bouche, the enchanted operatic wardrobe, sometimes has had to figure out where Madame ends and she begins.

“I'm having trouble staying in character because I'm so much like her,” Mackenzie said. “For example, she likes to make people laugh, so we're the same in that way. But she doesn't laugh at her own jokes like I do.”

To gear up for this spring's production, Hess said, a number of new steps were added to ensure students were fully prepared. They spent last fall learning about technical theater and had an audition workshop to prepare for the audition process in the winter.

Also, when rehearsals began in February, Hess brought in musical students from the high school to mentor the younger students. Hess said the mentoring program worked so well to prepare the middle school students for their production and build a strong connection between the high school and middle school students that she hopes to continue it every year.

“It's been a great success to build a better bridge between the schools,” she said.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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