She really is a bonny girl, that Belle, a girl who wants much more than her provincial life and the stubborn, repulsive clutches of her meat-headed suitor, Gaston.
But when an enchanted beast imprisons her in his spell-struck castle, thronged with singing forks and spoons, dancing dishes, a teapot, a joie de vivre French candlestick and other magicked characters, the beauteous, brainy Belle gets much more than she had expected.
Since January, co-directors Caroline Heilborn and Callie McCarthy have been putting 110 talented Lakeland Hills Elementary school students through rigorous, high-level rehearsals in the school’s gymnasium to bring to life Disney’s musical, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Next week, the annual spring production hits the stage for its 11th straight year at Auburn Riverside High School. Seventeen kids who didn’t make the final cut will put on a small production at the start of the show.
Yes, you’ll have more fun than you can handle watching and listening to all the beloved songs, but making all the laughter and pathos possible is a rigorous theater-training program for elementary school students.
Helmed by highly-skilled co-directors – Heilborn has a master’s degree in voice and theater, and McCarthy, a first-grade teacher at Lakeland and a professional choreographer – rehearsals are serious stuff.
So, hey, no wiggling, and no flapping the gums during rehearsal!
“No talking, you may not talk,” McCarthy – as usual, directing in her bare feet – shouts to the throng.
“If you’re not on, scoot back and sit,” Heilborn barks to a handful of cast members who had just wandered into a scene.
Among the cast members are some previously featured in productions by Auburn Community Players, Heavier Than Air, MainStage Theatre and even The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.
Maddie McCarthy, who plays Belle, is in her sixth and last production of “Beauty and the Beast” at Lakeland Hills Elementary.
“Over the past six years, I have grown as a musician, dancer and actress,” McCarthy said. “I have not only gained musical skills during these productions but have gained a confidence that I hope I can take with me forever. Our directors, Mrs. Heilborn and Mrs. McCarthy, have taught me that nothing comes easy, but that hard work brings results that I can be proud of,” she said.
Heilborn and McCarthy explained what makes this annual production so awesome.
“It’s really the community that we have that surrounds us that makes this a special production,” Heilborn said. “Callie is an amazing facilitator to get a lot of parental involvement. We take the kids to a place where they are surprised that they can get there. So they leave these productions having a different sense of who they are, and what they are capable of. Because we don’t really treat them like elementary school kids; we treat them like actors and actresses, so we expect them to perform at a high caliber, and they do, and they are surprised and they walk out of these productions with a whole new idea of what they are capable of and who they are.”
“One of my favorite things anyone has ever said to me came from a teacher at Mt. Baker Middle School —which our students feed into — who said he knows the kids who’ve been in our productions in his class because they are confident, they are well spoken, they’re able to share in a classroom. That’s one of the things we give to them: confidence. These kids are 10 and 11. We have 1,600 tickets, four nights of 400, and we are completely sold out a month before, so these kids get up before 400 people a night, with no fear. It’s so crazy,” McCarthy said.
“I love performing on stage and hope that I will continue to participate in theater my whole life. I am sad this will be my last year here at Lakeland,” McCarthy said.
The remaining leads are Enrique Strong as the Beast, Taylor Mentink as Gaston, Beatrice Maurus as Lefou, Amara Brown as Lumiere, Maya Pennington as Cogsworth, Nina Beckwith as Mrs. Potts, Kara Kosage as Chip, Avery Moore as Babette, Kendall Bonham as Madame, Jasper Hamilton as Maurice and Roman Blair as the Prince.
Kim Smith is the costumer.
Showtimes at Auburn Riverside Theatre, 501 Oravetz Road SE, are 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, April 26, 27 and 28, with a 2 o’clock matinee Saturday, April 28.