'Beauty and the Beast' a true love story on stage

'Beauty and the Beast' a true love story on stage

Ponanaganset High School students were rehearsing for the upcoming performance of "Beauty and the Beast" on Thursday, Feb. 27. Performances are scheduled for March 14-16. Jenifer Clark, 18, of Glocester, has the roll of "Belle" and Tyler Dorothy, 17, of Foster, is the "Beast." (Valley Breeze & Observer photos by David Wuerth)

GLOCESTER - "Heel, toe.

"Step, hop.

"Shake, shake.

"Step, hop, step together.

"Shake your booty."

And so goes the instructions that director Lauren Haynes calls out to the 15 Ponaganset High School girls standing in a chorus-like line, stepping, hopping and shaking more or less on cue, giggling all the while. This is an early rehearsal for "Beauty and the Beast" at Ponaganset.

As it turns out, this was the first time the cast tried out the tavern scene, when the village girls fall in awe with handsome Gaston and his amazing muscles, but Haynes says the production is "right where we need to be. We're in a good place."

The show is scheduled to run at the high school the weekend of March 14-16, and is the first theatrical production by Ponaganet students since "Cinderella" four years ago, when none of the current cast members were even in high school.

The production benefits from the efforts of a small army of volunteers and, the word from the director is all is progressing as it should be.

"We're doing well," Haynes said. "I've been extremely impressed with the amount of talent these kids have."

More than 70 students tried out before Christmas for what turned out to be a roughly 50-member cast, and many of the young performers, she noted, have done local theater work.

With the show two weeks away, she feels the kids are committed. "The interest is there," Haynes said. "We have singers, dancers, everybody bringing something to the table."

Haynes, 28, has been a theater devotee for 20 years and she's acted, sang, danced, directed and choreographed various productions over the years.

"Not to sound pompous, but I've done it all," she says.

Rehearsals for "Beauty" take place every weekday night, ending in early evening so school arrivals next morning won't be affected, and weekend rehearsals were added as opening night approached.

"Sure, this takes up a lot of time," said freshman Rachel Gervasio, who plays both a villager and a can-can girl, "but it's worth it."

True Love

If you are watching Ponaganset's "Beauty and the Beast," and you think you notice a certain ease, a certain familiarity, even actual romance between the two stars - Tyler Dorothy, 17, as the Beast, and Jennifer Clark, 18, as Belle, both Ponaganset seniors - you are not imagining it. The two have been dating for more than two years and they admit they are a couple.

However, winning the lead roles in this production at a high school generally known for its musical talent, was "not a given at all," Tyler says. "We worked really hard."

The two, working together, studied productions online and memorized the music, all the better to impress at auditions.

"Pretty much the moment we knew there would be a 'Beauty and the Beast' show we started preparing," Jen said. "I knew all the songs before we started. I really worked my butt off to make sure I knew my part."

Nonetheless, two others were called back to audition for the role of the Beast and, for Belle, four other students besides Jen were called back.

"I've loved 'Beauty and the Beast' since I was really little," Jen says. "I've seen the movie more than 500 times and what I like most is the music. I'm just a big music person and I love the music."

When she knew she won the role, "I cried," Jen said.

Tall and thin Tyler, who'll wear lots of bulky padding on stage, finds the role of the Beast to be "a real daunting task," but he knows he can handle it, padding and all.

"A lot of the role is angry in the beginning," he explains, "and I get more and more angry with myself until I loathe all the things I've been, and then I fall in love with Belle." This is his first acting job and he hopes to pursue a career in theater at college next year.

Jen's greatest challenge as Belle is the dancing. "I'm generally not the most coordinated person, singing is what I do," she said. "But I'm getting better. Getting started was the tough part."

This is her first foray into theater, too, and she hopes to continue studying the stage by concentrating on music education in college, with the goal of becoming a music teacher. "I'm a little nervous" she admits of the upcoming performance. "But I'm excited." In the pit

If it's music you love, then "Beauty and the Beast" is the right show to be in.

As Dan Coyne, music director at Ponganset and the show's producer, said, the production is based on the Broadway musical, not the 1991 Disney movie, and "it is almost all music entirely, there's very little straight dialogue."

Published reports say seven new songs were written for the 1994 musical stage show, some of which Coyne confirmed would be part of the PHS production.

On this evening in late February, while actors rehearse across the hall in the auditorium, Coyne works with the school orchestra in the band room.

"The biggest challenge," he says later, "is how much (of the music) there is." The show is two hours and 14 minutes long without an intermission, and the orchestra Coyne is conducting will be quite visible, in the pit-area before the stage, stationed right in front of the audience.

Ponaganset is, according to Derek Sabatini, music teacher at PHS and music director of "Beauty," one of the few schools anywhere that uses a live orchestra for a musical performance now that recorded versions are so readily available.

"It is a little unusual for a high school," Coyne agreed. "Sadly, it's getting to be unusual everywhere."

A community event

For the Ponaganset community, in Foster and in Glocester, the students, the families, the graduates, their relatives and friends, "Beauty and the Beast" has become a community effort.

With about 50 students in the cast, Doyne estimates that another 100 or so adults are helping out by taking charge of costumes, sets, publicity and fundraising.

Fundraising included a concert in January at the school by Frank Sinatra impersonator Chris Jason.

Coyne and Sabitini revealed how it was that PHS managed to get the Rhode Island-based Jason, known throughout the East Coast, on a local stage with such short notice. The trumpet player in Jason's band is David Piccirillo, a PHS alum and former Glocester police officer.

"That was such a fun concert," Coyne recalled.

Among other adults helping out are Dan Charest, whose children are PHS alum, building sets and directing the stage crew; Deborah Ceroni-Kravatz, designing and painting sets; and Lisa Coffey, working on costumes.

"A lot of people don't understand how much work goes into a production like this," Coyne said.

"The actual cost of the tickets would probably be about $24 or $25 (without the volunteers)."

Other financial support came from a $2,500 donation from one individual who wishes to remain anonymous; about $12,000 raised from fundraising; $2,500 in "cell tower" funds from the regional school committee (this is money raised from the rental of cell towers); and an unknown sum also from the School Committee for emergency replacement of the lightboard in the auditorium, after it suddenly died during rehearsals.

Female cast members practice a dance number during last Thursday's rehearsal of "Beauty and the Beast." Performances are scheduled for March 14-16.
Director Lauren Hayne coaches her cast during rehearsal.
Music director Daniel Coyne directs the school orchestra as they rehearse music for the show.
Zachary Wilks, 14, from Glocester, sings a song during rehearsal.