Bringing out the beauty and beast in all

The work began in October for Thurston Middle School eighth-grade students. Fast forward to Wednesday and the dress rehearsal inside the school's "black box" or theater room, for "Beauty and the Beast," was in full effect.

Twenty-seven drama students donned intricate costumes with guidance from director Mark Dressler and choreographer Erika Whalen.

"This is their first day in costume when they're not allowed to stop," said Whalen, who alternated between directing students toward their proper places on stage, and taking notes in the audience chairs. Nearly 60 students from two periods have practiced during school hours for the performance that opens at 4 p.m. Friday. The 27 students practicing Wednesday were from the period one class.

Dressler, who has taught drama at the school for 20 years, gave a pep talk before the rehearsal.

"You have to keep going [through the mistakes]," Dressler told the cast members gathered around him in a circle on stage. "Let's see how creative you are to get through a mistake. Practice creative ways of solving problems."

The play, based on the classic fairy tail adopted into a Disney movie Broadway musical, begins with a beggar woman offering a young prince a rose in exchange for a night's shelter. When the prince refuses, the woman punishes him by turning him into a beast and his servants into household items. She gives him a rose that will bloom until the beast's 21st birthday. The beast must love and be loved before the rose's petals have fallen off or he will remain a beast forever.

The play progresses to the scene of a French marketplace with merchants selling bread and cheese. "Belle," played by Elliet Glade, looks for a book to read.

Dressler interjected, "I'm not seeing any exaggeration of character."

Belle's father Maurice, played by Jonah Reynolds, enters the scene, a dark forest, and is surrounded by wolves. The wolves grab Maurice's scarf and scatter. Maurice stumbles upon the beast's castle and is led in by the transformed servants Lumiere, a candelabra, Cogsworth, a clock, Mrs. Potts, a teapot and her son Chip, a teacup.

Three ladies enter and chase Gaston, an arrogant local hunter played by Clancy Cooper. Gaston desires Belle and flaunts his strength next to his friend, Lefou, played by Noah Schucking. Cooper dressed in green trousers, black boots, a black leather vest and a curly black-haired wig.

The Beast, played by Bayley Thomas, appeared and showed Belle to her room. A tall fireplace and stone chimney roll across the stage. Belle begins to sing, but Dressler halts the act.

"Go to the end of this number so we don't push Belle's voice," Dressler said.

The Beast eventually asks Belle to dinner, but she refuses. She takes a tour of the castle with Cogsworth and Lumiere.

In the following scene, Gaston, Lefou and the narrators clank metal cups as they chant a song.

Even with mistakes, such as when someone failed to pull the curtain, Dressler moved cast members through the first act.

The familiar refrain, "Be Our Guest," included 15 cast members raising their legs in unison, but something was not quite right. Whalen stopped the play to organize cast members back into place.

"Why are there more people on this side?" she motioned to her left.

Glade, who plays Belle, wore a blue and white dress with a royal blue ribbon in her hair, made up into a ponytail. She was pleased with the rehearsal up to when the group broke for a 15-minute intermission.

"It's definitely good to make mistakes now rather than in the show," Glade said. "It's challenging with the vocals and dances."

Thomas, who plays the Beast, had perhaps the most elaborate costume: a braided brown hair wig, two horns atop his forehead, a white undershirt covered with a silk robe, boots, and claws with sharp-looking nails.

"Hot," Thomas said when asked how it felt wearing the costume.

Thomas said the most important part is playing to his character's personality, down to the most intricate details.

"I have my lines down," Thomas said. "It's a matter of working on my character, trying to bring the grumpiness out."

Thomas said he also had to increase the volume of his vocals.

The play opens Friday and Saturday with two showings at 4 and 7 p.m. and continues Feb. 8 and 9 at the same times, and Wednesday and Thursday at 4 p.m. at Thurston Middle School.

Roxanna Ward also helped Dressler and Whalen with directing the production. Cost is $15 for adults and $10 for students.


If You Go

What: Beauty and the Beast (Thurston Middle School eighth-grade students performing the 1991 Disney movie made into a Broadway musical).

Where: Thurston Middle School, 2100 Park Ave., Laguna Beach

Cost: $15 for adults, $10 for students

Information: (949) 497-7785

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