By COLLETTE CAPRARA FOR THE FREE LANCE STAR
The Christian Youth Theater in Fredericksburg’s current flagship production, Beauty and the Beast, offers families not only a literally enchanting experience, but also a valuable and enduring life lesson.
“This ‘Tale as Old as Time’ is a vivid reminder that it is everyone’s story. As we explore the realities of our world, we recognize that outward appearances are not always what they seem and that it is a person’s heart that defines who they are,” said director Kelly Hayes.
At the beginning of the story, the audience learns that a disguised sorceress turns an arrogant prince into a hideous beast and condemns all his household staff to gradually turn into inanimate objects after being offered a rose and treated in a humiliating manner. Her spell can only be broken if the beast (Solomon Iem) can learn to love and be loved before the last petal of the rose falls.
The action then shifts to the village, where Belle (Belle Mestler), a beautiful young bibliophile who longs to go beyond the confines of her everyday life, is taunted by the townsfolk. Worse, Belle catches the attention of the village’s narcissistic braggart, Gaston (Joshua Chapman), who (more out of possessiveness than love) decides to marry him.
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Little does Belle suspect, her wish will soon come true – albeit not in a way she would have invited. Her eccentric and unabashedly excited father, Maurice (Christopher Florio), encounters a dangerous pack of wolves while on his way to unveil his latest invention at the fair. He flees to a nearby castle, the realm of the beast, where he hopes to find sanctuary. Instead, he finds himself locked in the dungeon.
Upon learning of her father’s predicament, Belle pursues him and selflessly offers to take his place in exchange for his freedom. Your further life in the castle has beautiful moments, such as the greeting and entertainment by the “culinary cabaret” of the household. But she also goes through lonely, dark times when she encounters the Beast’s demanding and harsh treatment. Determined to join her father, she flees the castle.
But the Beast’s self-centered and burdensome behavior falls away when Belle is besieged by a pack of wolves and he intervenes in an act of personal risk and self-sacrifice to save her, just as she once did for her father. He is no longer a “beast” in the eyes of Belle, whose heart opens to love him.
Meanwhile, the jealous Gaston leads his minions to attack the castle and reclaim his “possession”, Belle, and the beast is mortally wounded in the battle. But as the beast’s life fades as Belle holds him in her arms, the last rose petal has not yet fallen and the true prince comes to life, for he has managed to love and be loved.
Directing and providing choreography for a cast of 76 might seem like a daunting task, but director Hayes, music director Pam King and choreographer Ellen Daniels are clearly up to the task, and they have both the expertise and dedication to the task young actors, enabling them to produce a seemingly effortless and joyful production.
A recent rehearsal shows that theater is not just a hobby, but an affair of the heart for all performers aged 8 to 18. Between the din of tap shoes, dramatic lines sung with enthusiasm (and sometimes with a French accent), and feats performed with theatrical bravado, helping hands are offered to one another and the occasional encouraging hug or smile given.
“CYT is very fortunate to have so many talented families and children who are interested in being a part of our productions. It makes it easy to fill both a large cast and a small cast,” said Hayes, who explains that in addition to her talents and skills, she also looked for moral role models to cast her leading roles. “I wanted kids of good character who could lead the cast from the front in their general attitude, and actors who were eager to learn and grow.”
Hayes emphasizes the important elements provided by the tech crew, many of whom are willing parents.
“They do some great things with lighting and special effects. Not only am I blessed with an amazing production team, choreographer and music director, but also with my parenting team who took on key roles, including costumes and makeup.”
The costumes are both beautiful and innovative, successfully connoting characters ranging from Cogsworth the clock (Riley Pugh), Mrs Potts the teapot (Scout Bragg), and the delightfully theatrical candelabra Lumiere (Giancarlo Santiago) to the menacing wolves and reach the beast himself .
“’Beauty and the Beast’ fits CYT and its mission perfectly. Our artistic vision for the production is to show that there is power in transformation,” said Hayes. “Your circumstances don’t have to stay where they are. You have a choice about how you deal with the life that has been given to you. You have the power to change.”
Hayes said that after two years of excessive screen time, a live performance provides an important opportunity for families to experience the dynamic exchanges between those in the seats and those on the stage, and between the community that is made up of the audience.
“I want people to be both entertained and challenged and leave the theater less burdened than when they arrived,” she said.