When the spell is cast, the maid Babette turns into a feather duster. Standing with Lumière in the cold shade of the enchanted castle, deep within the forest, she made a pretty picture. Babette’s black mermaid-velvet dress spread its billowing white feathers over her legs and exactly matched the low-heeled black dancing shoes.
On top of all the perfection of her dress, her choker lace necklace and the stylish blonde shoulder-length hair fully depicted her personality.
“She is sassy. She is flirting. She is quite the character,” said Abby Hoelscher, the actress who played Babette.
Hoelscher’s interest in theater stemmed from her experience watching her sister’s shows, where she was able to sing, dance, and be on stage. As a result, Hoelscher started doing plays and musicals in middle school. She had auditioned for every single show at CHS.
Hoelscher wakes up around 6:15 every day, attends show choir at 7:30 a.m., and then goes to school as usual. She will practice for shows until late afternoons, depending on where they are in the rehearsal process.
“Sometimes if I get home at nine, I will just go to sleep because I need to get up the next day at 6:15. It has been a tough schedule, but somehow, it worked out,” Hoelscher said.
For the musical Beauty and the Beast in particular, there is a lot of pressure to make it perfect. To Hoelscher, the most difficult part of the musical is the accents. While she had never taken any French classes, her character Babette has a rich French accent.
“I think the reason this musical is so hard is that this is something that everybody knows, so there’s a lot of pressure to be perfect. My Babette needs to be the same as everybody else’s Babette,” Hoelscher said.
“Another layer of stress is that we haven’t had a major musical since Wizard of Oz in my freshman year [in 2019]. So everyone wanted to make it perfect,” Hoelscher said.
Before every single show, the cast would go through all kinds of warm-ups. Everyone would talk about how much they love each other and that they are all in this together.
“The main thing that I love about theater is the community. Especially during the show week, when everybody is struggling, it feels that I am not alone and everybody’s in the same boat together,” Hoelscher said. “This sounds cheesy, but I’ve made so many friends through theater, and I’ve learned so much about myself as a person. It has been a tough journey, but it has been a good one.”
“It has always been a dream of mine ever since I saw Wicked to close up the act with a long, sustained note. So it’s really cool that I got to sing this historic part in the musical, where the castle pulls back with blackout curtains that basically defies gravity as the big act one closer,” Derek Crisp, the actor who played the Beast, said.
Crisp developed an interest in theater during his time in France, where he was selected for the musical Peter and the Beanstalk at his school. Though he never had the chance to perform it, this experience inspired him to continue seeking opportunities in shows.
At CHS, Crisp’s experience in shows began in the pit for Drowsy Chaperone. He sat to the left of the orchestra director, Ms. Jennifer Shenberger, with a keyboard in front of him and his jazz guitar to the right.
“Because that musical is a deconstructed melody, I would have to constantly switch out the electric plug and instrument in between songs,” Crisp said.
Ever since then, he became more involved in the school productions; last fall, he auditioned for Beauty and the Beast, hoping to get the role of Lumiere.
“I love Lumiere’s funny personality. He is just such a great character. And also, I have a good French accent,” Crisp said.
The audition process in high school has two parts: the singing and the dancing audition. For the singing audition, one would prepare a short (30 to 35 seconds) piece of music in some style that fits the music. And then, later that day or the next day, the choreographer comes in to give one a 20-minute period to learn a snippet of the dance.
“Then there were the callbacks, which helped the directing team decide who would play which character. And I got called back for both Lumiere and the Beast,” Crisp said. “When they announced the roles, I was really excited when I got the Beast. It’s huge.”
Though a musical entails acting, dancing, and singing, the Beast focuses most on the acting. And early on in the show, Crisp made the decision that he would use the type of growly, deep voice resembling an actual Beast.
“I would say that making the decision early on really gives me time to get used to it and get used to the amount of energy that it requires. I was able to do the lines to the fullest extent possible and just really go for it,” Crisp said.
Though challenges like keeping resilience in his voice and feeling lightheaded during the flying scene make the musical difficult, for Crisp, this experience was more than just fulfilling and rewarding.
“Now, after the show, I am thinking of doing some sort of vocal lessons because I really want to develop my voice, especially my range,” Crisp said.
“Belle had been a dream role. I looked up to her as a little kid and have loved her since,” said Elle Winnings, the actress who played Belle.
Since sixth grade, Winnings has been doing shows in the district. After seeing her siblings do shows, she knew that it was what she wanted to do.
“I’ve been doing it since and haven’t stopped. I have been going straight for it. It’s just so much fun,” Winnings said.
Beauty and the Beast was the first time that Winnings became a lead in a musical.
“I’ve never sung a solo song on stage before. So a lot of the preparation is getting prepared and overcoming the nerves,” Winnings said.
As a Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast have gained immense popularity throughout the years. It was Winnings’ favorite film because it was one of the most beloved of all time. Though knowing Belle, her aspirations, and her motivations beforehand make it easier for Winnings to put herself into character; there is a lot of stress to do the movie justice.
“There was a time when I was worried that I wasn’t going to be what everybody wanted Belle to be. I just worried if I was going to fulfill their expectations for her,” Winnings said. “And I think at some point, you just have to accept that you’re not going to be an exact replica. You will take your own spin, and perform with the materials that you have.”
To Winnings, the unique part of this musical is that it is for everyone.
“You can enjoy it even if you’re a kid. There are just so many funny lines. And if you are an adult, it brings you back to your childhood when it first came out. You’re there to enjoy the love story. And the story has a very powerful message: the power of love,” Winnings said.
Though it can be hard to relate to Belle’s mentality when she was locked in a castle, Winnings found a similarity between her and Belle in her relationship with her dad.
“I like the song No Matter What that Belle sings with Maurice, her dad. It’s just a sweet song that I enjoyed singing because it reminds me of my relationship with my dad and I love him,” Winnings said.
“Our next show is a student-run musical. I’m the production manager for that. So I’m really, really excited about that. We have a great team of student leaders for that show. And I cannot wait to see how that happens and what becomes of it,” Winnings said.
Because the musical Beauty and the Beast is a Disney movie, almost everything in the show appears exaggerated and more or less animated. “Outside of school, I have been dancing since I was three. I have taken ballet, tap, and jazz. And I am now a dance teacher for a pre-ballet class for three, four, and five-year-olds,” Madeline Hellwig said.
With her main role being that of a silly girl who follows Gaston, Hellwig was also one of the wolves and the napkin for the scenes Be Our Guest and Human Again in Beauty and the Beast.
As one of the dancers, Hellwig loves getting to dance on stage and really expresses herself through dance. To her, the most beautiful thing about shows and musicals is that she gets to sing, dance, and have little silly moments on top of the opportunity to dance.
“For this musical, the most difficult part is how fast-paced it is. I am constantly running backstage, changing costumes, changing shoes. I have to change three different costumes and three different pairs of shoes in the first act,” Hellwig said.
“You have to be okay with looking silly, acting silly, and being grandiose… You want to make sure that you’re doing it justice, but also giving your own life to it,” Hellwig said.
One aspect of Beauty and the Beast that Hellwig especially enjoys is that she is making this show for kids to laugh and to enjoy.
“I definitely get nervous. I think it’s a very natural thing. But I think at the end of the day, I do shows to have fun, and I love what I’m doing,” Hellwig said.
Because of the intensity of the rehearsal schedules, it is often difficult to manage getting all the schoolwork done after several hours of after-school practices.
“The biggest thing for me was being as productive as I could during the school day. I would make sure that I’m treating my body well, for example, by having snacks at rehearsal, drinking lots of water, and hanging out with my friends.”
To Hellwig, having a social aspect of rehearsal brings her joy. Prioritizing her physical and mental well-being prevents her from becoming drained and exhausted after a long rehearsal.
“You’re putting in a lot of hours. You’re putting a lot of time into this musical. But at the end of the day, remembering the joy that I have during show week, how fun it is to perform on stage, and how much I love laughing with my friends really motivates me,” Hellwig said.
Bringing an enchanted tale to the stage is not an easy task. Slight mismatches could take the audience out of the story. And the success of a musical consists of much more than the expertise of the actors and actresses on stage. In particular, costumes play an important role in creating the illusion of grandeur and surrealism.
“We ordered rental costumes. For the two weeks before the show, our job is to make sure that the actors fit into the costumes. We could also add some small and fun things to the costume to make it better,” Iris Park, the student costume designer, said.
Park explains that the costume designers help actors get dressed as quickly as possible and make sure that nothing falls apart.
“Time constraints are definitely a challenge. There were only four dressers with more than 30+ cast members. During the musical, our job is kind of like putting out fires,” Park said.
Specifically, Park was responsible for Belle’s quick changes.
“It was really difficult because she was the main character and didn’t have a lot of time to do the changes. But Elle was a really wonderful person and made the process easier,” Park said.
For Park, her favorite moment is when Belle went in front of the kids in the golden dress during the Wednesday matinée.
“Hearing all the kids gasp when she came out was such a wonderful moment. It made me really happy because we helped create that moment,” Park said.
Another part of Park’s job was to make sure that costumes stayed together.
“The costume for the carpeting rug was never fully carpeted. It would fall down. This really ruins the illusion that the spell turned everyone into things, as the audience can see the clothes under the rug,” Park said.
Park and other costume designers decided to add elastics to the bottom of that costume during the dress rehearsal that are stabilized with safety pins.
“But the pins just fell off well during Wednesday’s matinee, during the Be Our Guest scene, where she cartwheeled across the stage. After that, I sewed the costume back and forth with the sewing machine. And it worked for the rest of the shows,” Park said.
The costume crew also had an adult costume designer, Felia Davenport.
“She is amazing. Felia came to the dress rehearsal and made sure that we knew what we were doing, directed us, and told us what we needed to do. She’s really nice, helpful, and kind. So during the show week, it was a team effort among the student costume designers,” she said. “I have made so many great memories with the great costume crew. We’re always laughing with the actors and actresses backstage in the dressing room. And I know this is what I wanted to do.”
While Park had been interested in fashion and costumes for a long time, this was her first time being part of a theater production.
“Before, I just didn’t really consider it because most of my friends were not doing theater. So even though I was kind of interested, I didn’t really consider it. But I will be the costume director for the next student-run musical,” Park said.
“Gaston is pretty sexist, misogynistic, and doesn’t care about anything except Belle,” said Damian Boric, the actor who plays Gaston. “Obviously, most people would hate to meet a guy like that in real life, but the way Gaston is written as a character makes him hilarious for the audience to see and watch.”
In the musical, Gaston has a lot of movement. At one point during the show, he had to literally lift Belle up on his shoulder while hitting some high notes.
“This was difficult in the way that Gaston has an immense vocal range. And for the last 20 minutes or so, he does a lot of yelling to kill the beast,” Boric said.
Boric has always been fond of performing and has taken show-related classes in places like COCA and STAGES.
“Clayton High School was really my jump into the theater scene. It just feels right for me to be onstage. What I love a lot is just making people laugh, just presenting myself to the audiences, and bringing them a sense of joy from watching a performance,” Boric said.
Prior to each show, the choral director would lead most of the warmups. While for the acting warmups, the seniors have traditionally hosted them in Clayton.
“The seniors in my freshman, sophomore, and junior years led them. And now I do them for this show. It’s a lot of work on a lot of things, such as diction and articulation, vocal plank, projection, and just overall movement. They’re a lot of fun to do and a lot of fun to host,” Boric said.
While Boric has been involved in shows and musicals in CHS since his freshman year, this was his first time doing a flight scene. In one scene, Gaston and the Beast get onto the roof of the castle. When the Beast throws him to the ground, the lights go off on him.
“It gives me time to grab the cable and connect it to the harness, which is under my costume. So I have a very short amount of time to do that and then go back up on stage, stab the Beast and fall. It definitely was a lot of movements within a short amount of time,” Boric said.
For Boric, this will be the last show that he does with Clayton High School.
“It is the last show that I get to do with all of my senior friends, the last one. So it is pretty special,” Boric said.
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