'Beauty and the Beast'

'Beauty and the Beast'

Westfield Summer Stage production is set for July 28-31.

Featuring a cast of 60, technical crew of 30, lively songs and choreography and unusual, imaginative costumes, Westfield Summer Stage is presenting the Disney musical, “Beauty and the Beast.”

Performances are July 28, 29, and 30 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m. and Sunday, July 31, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at www.westfieldtheatreboosters.com.

"It's our biggest undertaking ever," said director Lori Knickerbocker. "We even have a 15-student orchestra led by professional musician Clare Morris, our musical director. And there are 140 costumes in the show and they're all elaborate."

"The audience is going to love it because it's so visual and the whole cast is so talented," added assistant director Zoë Dillard. "We have wonderful kids."

Now in its fifth year and sponsored by Westfield Theatre Boosters, Westfield Summer Stage held a four-week musical-theater production workshop that's culminating with this show. Parent Yvonne Henry is doing the choreography and stage manager is Heather McGrath.

Producer is Nancy Reese; technical director, Cheryl Cordingley; costume co-chairs, Nancy Rolfe and Rhonda Meadows; and master carpenter for the sets, Ken Rolfe (Nancy's husband).

In the mornings, Dillard directed the Young Actors Workshop; in the afternoons, she helped actors with character development and coached the dramatic scenes. It's hard work, but she relished every minute.

"I love working with these kids — they've become a good ensemble, " she said. "And I'm amazed at this parent booster group. They're so incredibly organized and giving of their time. They're smart, professional people who really know what they're doing."

Dillard said everyone in her family but the dog is involved. Husband Kim, a P.E. teacher at Deer Park Elementary, helped build the set and make costumes. For "Beauty and the Beast," he created the petite and large wardrobes out of huge blocks of foam, and the final result is quite realistic. Youngest Dillard daughter, Phoebe, 13, wears the petite wardrobe costume, and older sister Ashley, 17, plays the lead role of Belle.

After the show, Tom Bridgwood, a 2005 grad of Stonewall Jackson High, is headed for Los Angeles or New York to try professional acting. But first, he's playing the beast.

"He's a hairy guy with huge features and horns, and he's the cause of the spell on his castle," said Bridgwood. "He was a prince and was coldhearted and harsh to an old woman looking for a place to stay. He turned her away from the castle, but she was really an enchantress, so she put a spell on him and turned him into a beast. Then all his servants turned into objects, like a clock, candelabra, cup, wardrobes, teapot, feather dusters, plates, books, etc."

Delighted with his role, he said it's a "great opportunity to show the spectrum of emotion because he transforms from being a beast inside to showing the human side of him. It's challenging as an actor, but rewarding at the same time, to depict human emotion in such a powerful way."

Bridgwood said the toughest part is "moving around in that costume." But he likes being able to show his character going from despair to being transformed by the hope of Belle's love. And he said the audience will like the diversity of characters.

Recent Westfield High grad Tara Mitchell, a Virginia Tech freshman, plays Madame LaBouche. She explained that Belle's father is being held in the castle, and she goes there to rescue him. The only way to break the spell is if a human loves the beast and he returns her love.

Because of the spell, Mitchell's character has become a large wardrobe, like an armoire. "I'm a crazy, larger-than-life wardrobe," she said. "I also nurture and console Belle and am her friend. And I'm a good friend to Mrs. Potts, the big teapot."

She said it's great playing a non-human role. "My costume is so big, I can't move a lot, so the character comes from my voice, rather than the acting," she explained. "The hardest part is not being able to use your body for expressions, but it's fun to play "because it's so wild and out there." Regarding the show, Mitchell said it's a lot like the movie, "but it'll be fun for kids, whether they've seen it or not. I think it'll be a real crowd-pleaser."

As Belle, WHS senior Ashley Dillard is a caring, compassionate person. "Besides being my favorite Disney woman, she's the nice girl," said Dillard. "But she doesn't settle for less than what she thinks she deserves. She falls in love with the beast and sees how hard he tries to become a better person for her."

Dillard said it's "every little girl's dream to play this role — for Halloween, you're Belle in the gold dress. And I don't want to let down the little kids who've seen the movie 500 times."

She described Belle as someone who stands up for those she cares about. "I've loved the music since I was really little," she said. "My favorite song is one the beast sings, 'If I Can't Love Her,' because it's romantic, gorgeous and sweet — and it's the turning point when the audience starts liking him more."

WHS senior Barry Armbruster portrays Gaston, a hunter. Sophomore Garrett Henson, 16, is his understudy and also plays the prince, before he's changed into the beast, plus the village egg-man. In the latter part, he sells eggs and has a solo in the song, "Belle."

As the prince, Henson is snobby and, when the old woman seeks shelter from the cold, in his castle, he's mean and refuses her. "She hands me a rose and I throw it down," he said. "Then she curses me and the castle."

He describes hunter Gaston as muscular, good-looking and full of himself. "He's trying to force Belle to marry him," said Henson. "The villagers are awed by him, but Belle sees right through him. This is my favorite part because I'm a singer and I get to do more vocals, expand my range and play with different voices."

WHS senior Will Quinn plays Gaston's annoying sidekick, LeFou. "He follows Gaston around everywhere and chimes in on what he says," said Quinn. "He's kind of a goober who can't ever get anything right. But he's fun to play because he has lots of clownish energy. He bounces around on stage and jumps on people."

Quinn also sings the song, "Gaston," which he said is "so cool — one of the classic Disney songs and a once-in-a-lifetime thing. All the kids know it by heart."

Dressed as a realistic-looking clock, WHS junior Sarah Pike portrays Cogsworth. "I was the beast's right-hand man, but I became an enchanted clock," she said. "I love the role; it's challenging to act as a guy and, even though I'm a clock, I'm still the beast's main helper." (She's also the understudy for Belle).

"The hardest part is defining my character because it's so different than me, and I have to do a British accent," said Pike. "But I'm so happy that I can participate in and contribute to the show."

Portraying Mrs. Potts is recent WHS grad and Virginia Tech freshman Megan Meadows. "She was a maid and now is a British teapot and a warm, loving mother to two teacups (one, named Chip)," said Meadows. "She also takes care of the household."

She, too, has a large costume and likes her part. "It's silly and cartoonish, and it's fun to play a non-realistic character," she said. "'Beauty and the Beast' is a spectacle the whole family will enjoy; there's something for everyone. And after the show, we come out and talk to the little kids so they get to meet the characters."

Stone Middle seventh-grader Kevin Clay, 12, plays the teacup, Chip. It's his first role with Westfield Summer Stage, but he's already a veteran of several other plays in the local area. He portrayed Tiny Tim in Westfield High's "A Christmas Carol," Oliver in Alliance Theatre's musical, "Oliver," and Winthrop in its "Music Man." And after his stint in this show, he'll be in Alliance's musical, "Honk."

In "Beauty and the Beast," said Clay, "Everything about Chip is in his facial expressions. That's because my whole body's in a box and my face is in a little cup. I like it because it's one of my first roles where I'm a happy kid. And when I was little, I watched this movie a lot."

Oakton High junior Joe Machak plays Belle's father, Maurice. "He's a crazy inventor who has fun on stage with his inventions," said Machak. "He was taking an invention to a fair, got lost in the woods and wolves chased him to the castle."

WHS junior Courtney Knickerbocker plays French maid Babette. "I get to flirt with everybody and be sexy," she said. "And I like the costumes — a maid's outfit with apron, headpiece and feather duster, plus a big, ruffly dress."

Classmate Stephen Hatch plays head-servant Lumiere, who's turned into a human-sized candelabra. "He's very French and a ladies' man," said Hatch. "He's always trying to make his girlfriend Babette jealous. He uses his eyebrows a lot to display emotions and is the comic relief."

As technical director, WHS senior Cheryl Cordingley makes sure crew members know how to do their jobs, and she places less-experienced ones with veterans who'll teach them. She also oversaw the set building — the castle structure, plus movable facades of the town.

"I have a good tech crew," she said. "And since I'm partially the set designer, I like seeing my concept appear before my eyes — and seeing kids who never picked up a hammer before know what they're doing."

Musical director Clare Morris taught everyone the music and then worked with the orchestra, composed of students from local high schools. She said the hardest part was "fitting the music to the dancing and making it all smooth." But she's glad to do it because "it's been a great experience to see that I could do it." Best, said Morris, is "seeing the kids on stage when they've pulled everything together and their energy comes right back at you."

Director Lori Knickerbocker said the cast includes middle-schoolers to college freshmen and they're all dedicated to putting on a terrific show. "The neat thing is that half the cast isn't from Westfield, so it gives kids from different schools a chance to meet each other," she said. "And it adds a community-theater aspect to Westfield High. I love working with these students and watching them grow and change, and the community really embraces our productions."