“Tale as old as time,
“True as it can be …”
– from the song, “Beauty and the Beast”
Once upon a time, Disney created an animated version of "Beauty and the Beast." It was 1991, and the film was critically acclaimed and a box office hit.
Its popular blend of songs and memorable characters grew even more beloved with the 1994 premiere of the musical based on the movie.
Now, Belle and her beast come to Reedley, through a production from Reedley High School and the Kings Canyon Unified School District Performing Arts program.
The show opens Friday, April 15, at RHS’ Performing Arts Theatre and runs selected dates during the month. It’s the first time that Reedley High has presented “Beauty and the Beast.”
Mark Norwood, performing arts coordinator for KCUSD and the musical’s director, said he chose a show that was “sure to be a crowd pleaser” because he wanted a bigger audience to see what “these amazing students” are capable of achieving.
And, this is an ambitious production.
For example, in another first, the show has rented its set from Children’s Musical Theaterworks in Fresno. It gives the production a grander scale and requires a higher degree of directing the movements of the actors, who also have to focus on their performances.
The costumes – overseen by Tommie Hill, a regular at River City Theatre Company – come from Hill and a presentation of “Beauty and the Beast” by RCTC several years ago.
“This production will look amazing,” said Norwood, who's also RCTC’s artistic director.
At recent rehearsals, cast members talked about how proud they are of the show and the work they’ve put into it. The cast has nearly 35 members.
“This is not high school-level theater. It’s beyond that,” said Alexis Macedo, a RHS junior who is portraying Belle and has been in other RHS productions.
Beast is played by Cross Conway, a member of the high school’s choir program.
The students have ample support from leaders in the local performing arts community. In addition to Norwood, his wife, Denise, created the choreography. The band directors of Kings Canyon Unified – under the direction of fellow band director Sam Gipson – are performing with local musicians as a 13-piece orchestra.
Corey Dobbins, a RHS graduate and percussion tech for the school, is serving as vocal director and performing with the orchestra. Randy Lepp, music teacher at Reedley High, is lending support on the vocals. Lillie Valencia, who’s worked on wigs for RCTC, is helping with wigs for this show.
Chris Lang, technical director for KCUSD, is handling the technical aspects of the production.
“I am so blessed to work with such an amazing team of talented and kind people, who give their all to make our students’ experience the best it can be,” Norwood said.
Many Disney fans are familiar with the popular animated film and the musical, which means the show should appeal to all ages.
“It’s Disney, and there’s a princess involved,” said Emily Agavo, a senior playing Mrs. Potts, the enchanted teapot in Beast’s castle. And, because the film debuted about 25 years ago, she said, “adults grew up with it.”
The story, based on a French fairy tale, is about love and loyalty, unfairly judging others and acceptance, sacrifice and redemption.
And, there is humor, especially from Steven Balladarez as Lumiere, a debonaire, French candelabra, and Steven Haynes, as Cogsworth, the stuffier, English-accented mantle clock. It helps that Balladarez and Haynes are good friends who most recently appeared as Felix (Balladarez) and Oscar (Haynes) in the RHS fall production of the comedy, “The Odd Couple,” a story of complete opposites.
“We’ve got a very good, strong chemistry,” said Balladarez.
He’s also a senior who’s been in about nine RHS productions and said he views this show as an ambitious one: “I feel it’s exciting to take on a project as big as this.”
As Belle and the beast, Macedo and Conway are at the heart of the tale.
“’Beauty and the Beast’ is a fantastic show,” said Macedo. “You grow up watching Disney and being a Disney princess is a dream.”
She said that when she first put on her yellow gown for a key scene in the musical, “I almost cried.”
And, she enjoys her character, Belle: “I like how she’s got this spunk about her. She knows she doesn’t belong, but it doesn’t really affect her. She’s kind and generous. She’s stuck in a bad situation … but she finds the positive in everything.”
Macedo paused and added with a smile: “She finds the beauty in everything.”
For Conway, a senior, this is only his second show. He was in last spring’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
At 6 feet, 2 inches, Conway is quite a contrast to the petite Macedo. Plus, Conway will wear a costume that transforms him into the beast. Taking all this into account, Conway decided on how he would play him.
“He’s supposed to be a scary beast, but he’s just a goober,” said Conway, adding with a slight grin, “I don’t try to act. I just have to let it flow.”
One difference between the film and the musical, which had a long run on Broadway and has been produced around the world, is the addition of more songs. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote the original songs for the movie, which include the iconic “Beauty and the Beast” that will be sung by Agavo as Mrs. Potts.
For the musical, Menken wrote new songs with Tim Rice, who most famously teamed with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber for such shows as “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
So, in this show, Beast sings. That may be a surprise for those who’ve only seen the animated film. “I just hope that it’s a pleasant surprise,” Conway said.
For his friend, senior Eric Cortez, this is his first stage production. He has the part of narcissistic Gaston, who’s determined to make Belle his bride. Cortez, who’s also in the school’s choir, gets his own song, “Me.” He said his character is the opposite of his own personality. Gaston is full of himself and arrogant. “He’s something else,” Cortez said.
The senior also said he’s enjoyed himself and wished he had done more stage productions.
“It’s so much fun to work with all these people,” Cortez said. “It’s definitely been a good experience.”
Others in the cast are David Heinrichs as Maurice; Elliot Santos as Lefou; Frances Callahan as Babette; Naomi Haworth as the old beggar woman; James Clark as Monsieur D’Arque; Sarah Clemmer as Madame de la Grande Bouche; and Gracie Harder as Chip.
And, as the townspeople and servants: Heidi Harris, Gaby Silva, Cierra Ysidron, Shelby DeQuirico, Ashley Toews, Anna Rodriguez, Randy Serrano, Rodolfo Munoz, Evenie Mendoza, Elicia Balladarez, Erin Alvarez, Christopher Lopez, Malia Glanzer, Ariana Zepeda, Vanessa Martinez, Itzy Palomera, Lexi Newton, Erik Rosas, Isaiah Bueno, Alejandra Rodriguez and Abby Delport.
The musicians, under Gipson’s direction, are: Dobbins, Daniel Paulsen, Andrea Sosa, Emily Archuleta, Jon Alanzalon, Ryan Ubhoff, Moises Caluya Jr., John Heathcote, Jane Heathcote, Maggie Heathcote, Charlotte Pavelko, Hannah Gibson and Dario Rangel.
“Beauty and the Beast” will be presented April 15-17 and April 21-23 at the Reedley High Performing Arts Theatre, 740 W. North Ave.
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. all dates except April 17. That showtime is 2 p.m.
Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for adults and can be purchased at Sunnyside Bicycles, 1760 11th St., or at the door.