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On Theater: Actors get an early start at SCR

Baseball teams have their farm clubs in the minor leagues where the next big-league superstars learn the game. Theaters like South Coast Repertory have programs like the Theater Conservatory, where acting talent is born and, about this time of the year, showcased on one of SCR's two main stages.

This weekend and next, SCR's Summer Players will mount their version of a Disney favorite, the musical fantasy "Beauty and the Beast," on the Julianne Argyros Stage under the direction of the company's Theater Conservatory director, Hisa Takakuwa, now in her 11th year in that position.

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"Beauty and the Beast" has been around for a while — the original story was first published in 1740. The traditional French fairy tale has been adapted through the centuries, most recently as a hit movie and a Broadway show.

For the SCR rendition, Takakuwa has cast 35 young actors, students in SCR's Kids and Teen Acting Program, who are chosen by audition after at least a year in the Theater Conservatory. Many are experienced — including high schoolers who have been in the program since third grade — while others will be making their stage debuts.

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"Our older actors are there for the youngsters, always encouraging them," Takakuwa says. "Instilling confidence and self-esteem is what our program for kids is all about."

For Takakuwa and musical director Erin McNally, "Beauty and the Beast" is their ninth show together. Before taking on the kids, Takakuwa performed for several years in the company's annual holiday show, "A Christmas Carol," and came to SCR from the classic theater company A Noise Within.

"In the play — as in their lives — everyone has the power to change, grow and learn from every situation, good or bad," Takakuwa says. "That message will resonate not only with the cast but with young people in the audience."

Musical director McNally agrees that the story helps us understand that being unique or "different" isn't a bad thing. "And," she declares, "it's important that we learn this from a smart and strong female protagonist."

The cast includes local youngsters Sarah Cocroft, Maddy Nickless and Grace Tomblin Marca, all from Costa Mesa; Jaden Fogel, Christopher and Mitchell Huntley, Lauren Lyons and Acife McEvoy, Newport Beach; Dominic Brack, Grady Farman, Kelsey and Sean Kato and Kat Lewis, Huntington Beach; Marley Green, Fountain Valley; Olivia Drury, Laguna Beach; and Anthony Cervero, Rachel Charney, Lauren Dong, Nick Kessler, Alexandra Mason and Ben Susskind, all from Irvine.

Performances will be at 1 and 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $15 for children and $19 for adults and may be reserved by calling SCR's box office at (714) 708-5555 or going to scr.org.

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TOM TITUS reviews local theater.

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