To most, “Beauty and the Beast” is love story filled with colorful characters and memorable music. At the heart of the production, however, is a theme of reaching beyond preconceived notions and stepping outside of one's comfort zone.
For much of the cast of Manchester High School's spring musical production of “Beauty and the Beast,” the latter component could not be closer to real life.
“We have a significant number of brand new seniors in major roles,” said co-director Justin Elder. “We came up short on (actors to fill) male roles and Jacob Brady as Le Fou, Lewie Roberts as Gaston, and Brandon Cummings as our Beast really stepped up.”
The cast is filled with veterans such as senior Paige Burris who plays Belle and senior Sam Cope who portrays Lumiere. Elder said audiences at the 7 p.m. March 22 and March 23 productions will experience the same level of professionalism they have come to expect through bar-setting performances such as last year's production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“You can expect great characters, great musical numbers and a great group of professional musicians in our pit orchestra – many of whom asked to come back after doing Oz,” Elder said. “One thing that audiences should understand is that while it is 'only' a high school production, the cast and crew go at it like a professional production; from line study, to character study and all other facets.”
Elder, an English and Speech teacher at Manchester High School, is in his third year directing. He said working with 30-year veteran director and MHS music teacher Rick Harper, along with long-time production assistant Karen Ford, has been indispensable to both himself and the 45-member cast and crew.
“I think I bring some fresh ideas, but Rick, who is also our pit orchestra director, really brings the experience,” Elder said. “We try to pick things for the fall play that are more challenging, then something everyone is more familiar with for the spring musical.
“We have a good number of seniors this year that did ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as eighth-graders.”
Burris, who was in an eighth-grade production of the play at Miller South in Akron, is one of those cast members.
“I think every role an actor plays is challenging,” said Burris, who has since acted in community theater productions at Weathervane Playhouse and plans to pursue music education at Oberlin College.
“What appeals to me most about Belle's character is how she is very calm and polite in the beginning, then finally realizes there is a time to stand up for herself and those she loves; it is really inspiring.”
A natural cut-up, Roberts said he is most looking forward to the opportunities the character of Gaston will give him to make the audience laugh.
Page 2 of 2 - “I think the best part has been being able to work with all the cast members and directors,” said Roberts, who plans to attend the University of Akron or the College of Wooster to study biomedical engineering - with “some theatre on the outside.”
For the past three years, Brady has had a unique perspective on the school's stage productions as stage manager. He is reprising that role - along with that of Le Fou - for Beauty.
“Being stage manager has helped - I have seen what others have done well and that has personally helped me,” he said, adding that his role, like Roberts, is largely one of “comic relief.”
Ironically, the actor with the least on-stage experience earned the lead role in the musical.
“I don't think I have ever done anything like this,” said Cummings of his role as Beast. “I have been on stage a lot as a band member, but since they didn't have a lot of guys come out (for the musical) I decided to try out.”
And no one was more surprised at the result than Cummings himself.
“When I found out what my part was I was surprised,” he said. “And a little nervous.”
Still, Cummings added, he is excited about the experience.
“It is something I have wanted to do for a long time and I think the audience is in for a great show,” he said. “It is a great story of how good looks are not always the most important thing. It is a story of true love.”