by Susan O’Neill
Disney’s musical â€œBeauty and the Beastâ€ has been Kaneland High School senior Samantha Eichelberger’s favorite show since she was a little girl. By the time she was 3 years old, she knew the words to all the songs. She said she felt a real connection to Belle, the main character in the story, with whom she shared a love of reading.
â€œI would say, ‘Look, mommy, she likes to read, too,’â€ she said.
When she got older, she developed an even greater appreciation for the music. So when she was chosen to play Belle in the high school’s production of Beauty and the Beast, she was thrilled.
The students of Kaneland High School performed the musical last Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All three days were well-attended, and Sunday was a sold-out show. In full costume, the cast joined a room full of little boys and girls for a brunch before Sunday’s matinee. Some of the children dressed up like their favorite characters, and posed for souvenir pictures with the actors.
â€œI love the little kids,â€ cast member Emily Kenkel said. â€œThey’re so in awe.â€
Kenkel, who played Mrs. Potts, was dressed like a tea-pot, with one arm for the handle and the other to pour. She said she had a lot of fun with her role as an inanimate object.
This was Kenkel’s last high school production. She graduates this spring and said she will likely become a music teacher. She said she was happy that her last play was such a huge production.
And a huge production it was. Many of the actors had several costume changes during the performance, some as many as three. There were also a number of set changes, as well.
Everything worked flawlessly. Ilene Carter, the director, said that high school junior and stage manager Scott Dykstra had everything under control.
She said he was very disciplined during the rehearsals and performances. He would not allow any chatter over the seven headsets he had going to give everyone direction.
â€œIt was amazing the way he pulled everything together,â€ Carter said.
Bradley Staker, who played The Beast, not only played one of the lead roles, but also put a lot of time into helping build the sets. He also assisted with the lights â€œand all the fun stuff,â€ he said.
Staker said the role of The Beast fit him, because his friends consider him a big cuddly beast. He said he has been singing since the second grade when he sang a solo in the children’s Christmas concert at his church.
â€œI’ve been singing ever since,â€ he said.
He began performing in musicals in high school and is a part of the Madrigals and the boy’s choir. Although he is a junior, he has already decided he will major in music education in college. He wants to teach choral music.
Gaston, also known as Kevin Krasinski, said Beauty and the Beast was a part of his childhood, as well. He said it was nice to reminisce while they rehearsed for the performance.
He said playing Gaston was exciting for him, and he was really able to lose himself in the character. Krasinski is 6’1â€ tall, and similar to Gaston, he has a large presence.
â€œI’m like Gaston in that I carry myself in a big manner,â€ he said. â€œGaston has a big personality and he is boastful. They always know he’s in the room.â€
Krasinski said he has been acting since he was in eighth grade, when he tried out for a play and ended up with the role of Daddy Warbucks. He said he realized then how much fun it was. He also started singing when he was very young.
When he was in sixth or seventh grade, he started to pursue music more seriously. He joined the Midnight Special, the concert choir and the Madrigals, and began performing in musicals.
The other main cast members are Chloe Bluml as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Brock Feece as Lefou, Joey Kenkel as Maurice, Belle’s father, Kathryn Lanute as Chip, Bryan Renaud as Lumiere, Kendall Renaud as Cogsworth, Jake Rosco as Monsieur D’Arque and Bessie Tockstein as Babette.
Mike Panegouleas is the narrator, James Tockstein is the young prince, Taylor Carlson and Danielle Rose played the enchantress, and the silly girls were played by Emma Anderson, Natalie Sweica and Samantha Vazquez.
In addition to the students who played the leads and other larger parts, Carter said there were many others who helped to make the production a success.
â€œThe chorus members worked just as hard rehearsing,â€ she said. (The musical number) â€œBe Our Guestsâ€ is 12 minutes long.â€
The chorus began rehearsing the music under musical director Bryan Kunstman the week of Jan. 9, and students began work on the sets with technical director Chad Carlson at about the same time. Carter said for the high school orchestra to learn that much music in that short of a time was a tribute to orchestra director Aaron Puckett.
Carter, who teaches theatre at the high school, said they were lucky to have choreographer Paula Frasz work with the cast. Frasz is a professor of dance and choreographer at Northern Illinois University.
Lisa Hodge was in charge of the costumes, and Carter said she made the changes look effortless from the audience. She said parents helped in every capacity.
â€œWe had the right combination of people to make the quality happen,â€ she said.
Eichelberger said she definitely had fun during this performance and particularly enjoyed coming out on stage in the yellow dress.
â€œI could hear the kids going, ‘Ooooh,’â€ she said. â€œMy mom said the little girl behind her said, ‘She’s so pretty.’ I felt like a princess.â€