This weekend 48 Roosevelt Island kids in three different casts will take the stage in the Main Street Theatre and Dance Alliance (MST&DA) children’s musical theater production of Beauty & the Beast Jr.
With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, Beauty & the Beast Jr. tells the story of an arrogant prince cursed to live as a terrifying beast until he finds his true love. Belle, the quirky, dreamy girl, captures his heart. Tender and funny, the story is peopled with quirky characters. There is Belle and her eccentric inventor father, her cocky suitor Gaston and his sidekick LeFoult, a candelabra named Lumiere, a clock named Cogsworth, a teapot named Mrs. Pots and her teacup son Chip, and other personified objects. Then there are the wolves and the villagers who become even more savage than the wolves. Last but not least, the dour, lonely and misunderstood beast.
Warm-up circle, cast 1 before their final dress rehearsal, all photos by Irina Island Images
Currently deeply immersed in “tech week”, there is a palpable excitement as kids prepare for the culmination of a project they have been working toward all year. Working out the timing, ironing out the kinks, getting the costume changes, adding some velcro here or some foam there to ensure ease and fit, making the props and set sparkle with magic and whimsy – and – most importantly, blocking the action and drilling those lines, lines, lines.
Directors and musical directors Kimbirdlee and Jonathan Fadner, assistant director and stage manager Josh Shapiro, and choreographer Joshua Israel make it all seem effortless. Yet a tremendous amount of time, thought, and patience has gone into the dazzling show the community will be treated to over the next week.
It wouldn’t be possible without the instrumental work of lighting designer Andrew Trent, costumes and props by Jeanne Castagner and Tanya Starace, set painter Dan Nistor, assistant stage manager Chana Metzer, stage crew Noa Betel, Desmond Towey, and Ty Scanlon, and props mistress Sally Ashe, as well as backstage help from parents.
Cast 1's Beast, Niv Betel
This year so many children showed up to audition for the production that the company increased the number of casts from two, as had been done in previous years, to three – a remarkable feat handled with professionalism and aplomb. Creating three casts allowed more children a chance to perform, and the decision is a testament to MST&DA’s dedication and commitment to the children of Roosevelt Island. They committed to making costumes work for three different sets of differently sized actors – and then rose to the challenge of keeping track of those same costumes. What makes theater so special is that each show will be different, and in this production each cast has its own unique chemistry.
Kimbirdlee Fadner, MST&DA’s Assistant Executive Director, and her husband Jonathan Fadner are the dynamic duo making an enormous positive impact on so many burgeoning creative souls. Parents themselves of two young boys, there seems to be no limit to their patience or their drive. Ms. Fadner is directing casts one and three, while Mr. Fadner is directing cast two.
A scene performed by cast 1
Harnessing the talents of so many energetic kids across such a range of ages is no small task. Ms. Fadner uses a microphone during rehearsals, a smart choice since she’s a professional singer. They also rely on the impressive assets of stage manager Josh Shapiro, who joined the company this year. Dance numbers were created and taught by choreographer Josh Israel, and the music directors are Mr. and Ms. Fadner.
There is a mutual respect not only between the adults and the students, but among the students, who have forged strong friendships and a remarkable sense of respect and trust. Working together collaboratively is the name of the game in ensemble theater, and everyone’s part is appreciated, reinforced, and integral to the success of the whole show.
Dakota Hoosain says, “My favorite part is the song, Beauty and the Beast, and I love our costumes.” Her sister, Dleanna Hoosain, adds, “My favorite thing about [it] is that everyone gets to show what they can do – their true talent.” Jonathan Moore remarks, “One thing I like is Be Our Guest, because Belle just enters and they’re giving her a full feast, with candelabras and everything. She just enters and she gets this massive feast. They don’t even know if she’s the one.” Mackenzie Chestnut says, “All the people in the cast is what makes the show.” Emily Zhao, who plays Belle, says, “I love the music.”
Cast photo, cast 1
“I chose Beauty and the Beast this year for several reasons,” explains Ms. Fadner. “Young actors crave experiences that make them feel alive and special, something different than their everyday experience. Theater can be a vehicle to transcend reality and exist for a while in fantasies and fairytales. It was so exciting to see this show come together and watch the kids’ imaginations go wild. They now have the skill and ability to capture an audience with bold choices and pizazz and this will carry into their lives in ways that make them confident and creative contributors to the world.”
A Cast 3 dress rehearsal
“I also love the messages within this story,” writes Fadner. “When I look at the tale as old as time, I find a story of feminism, girl power, friendship and trust, deep family values, finding the beauty within and loving what is. “
The showtimes are Friday, June 7, 7pm., Saturday, June 8, 2pm and 7pm, Sunday, June 9, at 2pm and 6pm, and Monday, June 10, at 7 pm.
All of these shows are expected to sell out, so reserve your tickets while there is still time.