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New York trip helps bring musical alive for students

| Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2005

The cast and crew of Connellsville Area High School's 2005 musical, Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," looked to the professionals for inspiration to create a memorable local production.

The production's 47 members recently traveled to New York City to see the tale come alive on the Broadway stage.

"It was to get them fired up," said Merle Stutzman, the musical's technical director and music teacher at the high school.

And it worked.

Stutzman said that after returning from New York, the Connellsville students were armed with several ideas that could be incorporated into the local production. They gained some extra insight on Broadway, where they were able to go backstage.

"The kids can give me input now because they saw the show," Stutzman said. "We had 47 directors on the way back."

When the group returned to Connellsville, the stage took on a whole new design, Stutzman said. It will be a close replica of the stage in New York.

The trip also inspired the actors.

"It was breathtaking for me," said Lindsay Dilworth, who is playing the lead role, Belle, in Connellsville's production.

Before the trip, Dilworth had an idea of how she wanted to portray her character. But after seeing the Broadway show, she said she may change some of the little things in her stage movements in order to make scenes more believable.

Although she'll incorporate some of her movements, Dilworth said she is not going to play Belle exactly as the New York actress. Nor will she change her vocal style.

Chuck Sleasman, a senior cast in the role of The Beast, loved the Broadway show.

Sleasman said he observed how the Broadway actor portrayed The Beast and moved with ease under the hefty costume, whcih is similar to the one he'll wear during the local production.

"You can't just stand there like a vegetable," said Sleasman, who noticed The Beast's subtle, ape-like movements on stage.

He said watching the actor's performance has given him some ideas of how he should portray the character.

"I want to be a big presence on the stage," Sleasman said. He said he is considering expressing his character through bear-like movements.

The challenge for the high school production to equal the Broadway production lies in the elaborate sets, costumes and the amount of money spent on the production, Sleasman said.

"I think we'll match up very well with the local acting, singing and talent," he added

Stutzman said the school board granted the cast and crew permission to make the trip. He believes it was the best lesson the students could receive in conjunction with the musical.

Students had to pay their own way -- about $100 each -- but they agreed it was worth the cost.

"It was breathtaking," Dilworth said. "I didn't want it to end."

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