SCHOOL MAY BE OUT, BUT THE REVIEWS ARE IN!!!
L. to R. Audri Wells as Belle, Riley Locklear as Gaston, and Wesley Whelan as Lefou
Louisa Middle School performs Disney’s 'Beauty and the Beast'
Contributing Writer – Amy Hall
It’s a tale as old as time. A young French maiden finds love in an unlikely place – a hideous beast. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a story that has captivated audiences for years and this past week students at Louisa Middle School brought it to life.
This was the sixth play performed at Louisa Middle School in the past five years. Work began well before Christmas on the first LMS performance of a Disney play. “In the past we’ve done Rogers and Hammerstein musicals but we’ve completed their series for middle school. Now we’ve decided to try Disney’s middle school versions,” said music education teacher and performing arts director Tonya Castle.
They chose to perform Beauty and the Beast first because of its recent re-release on Blu-ray disc and its familiar story line. The story itself stayed true to the popular animated feature, including the same characters, story line, and songs. “This play is a true depiction of the movie version with a very slight alternate ending,” Castle said.
Nearly sixty students were involved in the play. Principal Tom Castle points out that this meant that 1 of every 7 students was in the play, which is huge for the arts program at the middle school. “We have very talented kids and some have more than one role,” Tonya Castle said. Even though they had some difficulties with scheduling because of snow days and school ending earlier than anticipated, the play went off beautifully each night.
The two leads were played by a relative newcomer and an experienced performer. As the Beast, 8th grader Cole McCreary had never acted before. He tried out for the play because he is, “a math and science guy and I want to be well-rounded.” Though he expressed nervousness before his performance, McCreary played his part with the confidence of a stage veteran. He gave an excellent portrayal of one of the greatest characters in Disney history.
Belle is portrayed by 8th grader Audri Wells, who has been in twelve productions, including two previous Louisa Middle School plays. She was the lead in last year’s play, The King & I, playing Anna. Wells is also a member of the Paramount Players, a group of actors who perform in community theatre at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland. She was very excited to play Belle, who happens to be her favorite Disney princess. “When I was little, I always connected with Belle the most. If I could play any Disney princess, I would pick Belle. She’s an unconventional princess because she wasn’t born into it like the other Disney princesses. She’s not a typical ‘damsel in distress.’ She’s independent,” Wells said.
She hopes to have a career on Broadway one day and based on her performance, she could very well be there in the future. When Wells first appeared on the stage there were audible gasps in the audience and, as one observer noted, “she’s Belle!” Wells was so convincing as the book-loving beauty that following the performance, many of the younger children attending took pictures with her, thinking that she was the real thing.
In addition to the two leads, there were some standout characters in the play. First, 8th grader Sydney Kinev played Madame de la Grand Bouche. Kinev was hilarious in her portrayal of the chest of drawers who used to be a regal lady. The combination of her haughty attitude and accent made for excellent entertainment.
Braxton Sartin truly shined as Lumiere, the womanizing candlestick. He was dedicated to his character, constantly hopping from one side of the stage to the other and delivering lines to perfection. His singing voice was also very good and he has a great acting future ahead of him.
Perhaps the award for comic relief should go to the dynamic duo, Gaston and Lefou, portrayed by Riley Locklear and Wesley Whelan. Extra padding transformed Locklear into the buff Gaston and Whelan into the portly Lefou. They had great chemistry and no fear of physical comedy, with Locklear pushing Whelan to the floor in one scene. Overall, their performance was excellent and very enjoyable.
Overall, the entire cast did a great job with the play. Every student really stepped it up on performance night and each role was important, from Belle and the Beast to Mrs. Potts and Babette to the cups and cheese graters. Their hard work was impressive and they received standing ovations following each performance. Considering the hardships of this year, the play could not have been better.
Supporting the arts in Lawrence County schools is very important to the community, with standing room only at each performance. Many school employees came to the performances, including Lawrence County head football coach and Louisa Middle School assistant principal Joey Cecil, who expressed his love of the arts. “The more opportunities we give students, the better the education. It gives another way for students to express themselves,” he said. Cecil also made comparisons between the arts and athletics, noting that not only do they both allow expression, but both include a live performance that has immediate gratification.
Miss Donna J. West, a teacher at LMS for 22 years, put supporting students in the arts this way, “I am so proud of everyone’s efforts. An unbelievable amount of work goes into a production like this, but well worth it – when it all comes together. When Tonya Castle came back home to Lawrence County (after teaching in Mason County) six years ago, she expressed that she would like to build a strong performing arts program at LMS. Today I believe her vision has become reality – all you have to do is ask the many students that have been involved the past six years. I have seen firsthand the positivity surrounding programs like this one. I have seen students gain confidence, responsibility, improved behaviour, better attendance, a feeling of belonging, and the ability to work as a team to meet a goal. It is wonderful to see our faculty, staff, and parents come together and support our students in a way that may seem to some as small and unimportant, but is really huge to our kids and life changing. I feel so blessed to be a teacher at this school; our Lawrence County kids past, present, and future are just as gifted, talented, and capable as any. I loved what the proud parent of Riley Locklear who portrayed Gaston, said to me after the last performance. She said, ‘We would have never known these kids could do this if they had not been given this opportunity.’ I am so grateful our students have this opportunity.”
Tonya Castle wishes to extend a special thank you to Donna J. West, Bill Hammond, Eric Abbott, Sheri Perry, Samatha Penix, Molly Webb, Kim Keeton, Tom Castle, Joey Cecil, Teresa Parsons, Lorie Blevins, Deana West of the 21st Century ALIVE (Advancing Local Involvement via Education) Program, Luanne Kelly of the Youth Service Center, Tommy Perry, Andrea Cyrus, Ashley Sartin, Philana Short, Vic Penix, Andrea Riffe, Melissa Dotson, Sherita Akers, Tractor Supply of Louisa, First Baptist Church, and all of the faculty, staff, parents, and students for their patience and support.