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Jacqueline Aguilar ast Belle, center, dances with the cast of "Beauty and the Beast" at dress rehearsal on Monday.

Emma Lynch joined the cast of the Blossom Trail Players’ “Beauty and the Beast” already quite familiar with the production.

She had appeared in the Disney-inspired musical of the quintessential tale at Minarets High School about a year and a half ago. And she said she’s seen the animated Disney movie countless times. That with her role as a milk maid and in the musical’s ensemble has enabled her to recite much of the dialogue and lyrics, she said.

“I could do the whole introduction right now,” Lynch said at the production’s first official dress rehearsal this week.

The Blossom Trail Players have again employed a full orchestra, a sophisticated set and a seasoned cast as the group, now in its fifth season, seeks to bolster its following for live theater in Sanger. The show opens at 7:15 p.m. June 20 in Sanger High’s multipurpose room, 1045 N. Bethel Ave. The musical continues June 21 and 22 and the next weekend, June 27 to 29. All shows are the same time with the exception of an extra 2 p.m. matinee June 29. The players’ Junior Company performs “A Disney Silly Sing-Along,” directed and choreographed by Jackie Moreno.

Returning for a second year is director Elizabeth Fiester. She also directed last year’s “Guys and Dolls.”

“I think it’s delightful,” Fiester said of this year’s production. “There’s a whole new crop of 13- to 18-year-olds we didn’t have last year. So that’s exciting. It’s a nice mix (with the veteran actors.)”

Fiester said the set this year is especially grand, featuring the scenic design talents of Dan Husak and detailed artistry of Madlyn Esquer. “Dan engineered a very effective set that transforms (from scene to scene) very quickly,” Fiester said. 

And the costumes, sourced from Fresno State, Children’s Musical Theaterworks and the sewing machine of Monica De Pruneda, founder of Apache Closet, which provides prom dresses to students, added to the overall effect, transforming the stage into a scene straight from Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve’s original 1740 novella “La Belle et La Bete.”

Prior to Monday’s dress rehearsal De Pruneda showed Jacqueline Aguilar, who plays Belle, the second of three costumes Belle would wear that night. Aguilar had already tried on the No. 3 outfit, a flowing golden waltzing gown, and wore the blue and white village dress ensemble that Belle first appears in with her father, played by Dan Warnecke, Sanger High’s choir director.

Aguilar expressed her satisfaction, and De Pruneda disappeared to help others with their costumes. For instance, she had to use a hot glue gun to piece together a part of Daniel Ward’s clock outfit. He plays Cogsworth.

Aguilar said she loves the production. “I thought Belle was a great character,” she said. “Really complex. She has her own way of doing things. She’s not afraid to stand out, and she’s very strong willed.”

Belle shows this right away, rebuffing the brusque affections of Gaston, the village big man, played with flair by William Erik Johnson, who first appeared at age 5 in “Oliver” as a street urchin. “I love the cast,” Aguilar said. “Every one of them. We get along really well.”

Agustin Chapa plays the Beast, and the role is his first with Blossom Trail Players. He had just completed the transformation into his character, complete with an impressive set of horns sprouting from his the top of his skull and hair erupting everywhere above his neckline. “I think we’re doing a mic check soon,” he said as the seconds ticked down to his opening scene.

But Chapa had yet to completely lose his humanity. He sounded very human. He said he’d immerse himself into the man-monster required of the role when on stage. And indeed he did, hanging back in the shadows, delivering dialogue backed by an inhuman growl. He even showed his teeth in a musical number while trying to tone down his animal instincts to better connect with Belle.

Kaitlin Dean, who plays a milk maid alongside Lynch, said the Beast becomes more civilized as the show progresses. She said she likes the production. “It’s really fun,” she said. “I was a first-grader when my old school did ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and I always wanted to do it.”

Tabitha Santos played Babette, one of the enchanted members of the Beast’s castle. She worked on her makeup and teased her hair before putting on her black costume and getting into character. “I’ve really got to be done up,” she said. “I know my hair’s going to hate me. I feel like I should be in an ‘80s rock band.” 

Santos said her character is really flirtatious and risqué. “I do actually love her,” she said of Babette. “I had a secret ambition to be her in this show.”

Bonnie Gonzalez, theater director at Sanger Academy, plays the enchantress, who appears in the opening scene and transforms the young prince after he rejects her affections. At the dress rehearsal, she wore a bustling green gown with a hooded cape that hid most of her long gray-blue wig. “I feel like an enchantress,” she said.

Warnecke said his role as Belle’s father, Maurice, is nice especially with the proximity to Father’s Day. “There gets to be a really endearing song called ‘No Matter What’ that says he’s there for her no matter what,” he said. 

And that makes sense because Warnecke has three daughters, all of whom appear in the musical. Carissa Warnecke, who appears in the ensemble, said it’s pretty easy working with her dad, especially after appearing with him in other productions. She said she and her sisters have had to help him run his lines because, even though he knows what to say, he can get the sequence wrong on occasion. “It’s hard to keep everything in order,” she said.

Carissa said she especially liked the sets’ transition from the castle, village and forest. “It’s really pretty,” she said.

Matthew Castillo plays the prince/Beast double, Dimitrius Hopkins plays LeFou, Edgar Olivera plays Lumiere, Heidi Orender plays Mrs. Potts, Joshua Braaton plays Chip, Kayla West plays Madame De Le Grand Bouche, Alex Gomez plays Monsieur D’Arque and Alexus Skipper, Rachel Henderson and Liliana Warnecke  play silly girls who moon over Gaston.

The ensemble includes Gonzalez, Castillo, Patrick Gonzalez, Alex Amezcua, Derek Gueda, Gomez, Lupita Padilla, Lewis Garcia, Steven Garcia, Naomi Warnecke, Matthew Nicacio, Lynch, Dean, Bella Hernandez, Florence Malano, Katya Madrigal, Cameron Ward, Preston Ward, Nicole Tiburcio, Bonnie Yun, Nathaniel Lara, Jordan Pinedo, Danielle Gonzalez, Ariana Gutierrez and Rebecca Giannadrea. 

Wolves include Ward, Pinedo, Castillo, Lara and Steven Garcia.

Annette Husak also contributed to costume design. Alan Moffett took over music direction from Andrew Esquer this year. Caleb Jones provided lighting design. Samantha Hardy was stage manager. Alexis Macedo was choreographer. And Dan Warnecke was sound and vocal director.

The reporter can be contacted by email at nemethfeatures@gmail.com or by phone at the Herald at (559) 875-2511.

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