VAN WERT - With each year, the Drama Department at Van Wert High School takes on a new challenge. This year sees a move from the onstage rain and dance numbers to a show with which almost everyone is familiar.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast will be presented this weekend, April 19-21, and after weeks of rehearsal, cast members are anxious to fill the Niswonger Performing Arts Center seats will people, young and old, who want to experience the familiar story in a new way.
"It's going to be a fantastic show," predicted Danielle Slagle who plays Belle. "Everybody has put in tons of work and effort. It's going to be good."
Jennifer Carnahan, who plays Mrs. Potts, agreed, "I hope they enjoy the story as we tell it.
We're going to have a lot of cool effects, a lot of cool setups, and I want the to really appreciate what Mrs. (Michelle) Stoller has done with this group of people here. It's really phenomenal."
For many in the cast a large production is old hat, but each show presents new challenges. Daniel Bashore, who plays Beast, and Slagle each began on the big stage in 8th grade in the company of Hello Dolly! But there is always something new.
"It's probably playing somewhat of a deeper role than I have in the past," Bashore pointed out. "Beast has a little more depth to him than any of my past characters I have portrayed... Obviously I'm not human for most of the show, so that makes it quite difficult. I'm not sure how to act when I'm in a beast-like nature."
Last year in Singin' in the Rain, Slagle had vocal problems to deal with. This year, it's a whole new set of emotions.
She said, "I hope the little kids enjoy the show because it's similar to the movie, but I hope that with the musical it goes more in depth with emotions and the audience will really buy into the deep emotion of being stuck in a place and trying to get out, and falling in love with somebody you wouldn't even take a look at first, but learning to love them for the inside instead of what they look like."
Meanwhile, Austin Reichert is stepping into the role of Lumiere in his first ever role in a major production.
"It's a lot like my personality, so it comes out easily. The flirty kind of characters, the outgoing person is who I really am, so it comes through easily," he admitted. "The easy part is getting into character and being myself on stage. The hard part is memorizing. There is so much to memorize with the music and the lines."
The youngest member of the cast this year is not the least experienced. Eight-year-old Joshua Hattery is a veteran of a production of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" and was asked to portray young Chip in the Van Wert High School production.
"I just really like having fun doing this," he smiled.
Everyone admitted that there is a little extra pressure this time around portraying characters that most audience members already know.
Carnahan stated, "There's always that pressure there, but it will be different enough that it will be our own interpretation of it, yet still close to what the audience remembers from the movie. And there are a lot of different scenes and numbers that aren't in the actual movie, so it's kind of it's own little performance aside from the movie."
Bashore agreed, "Yeah there really is some extra pressure. I grew up watching the movie. I loved it. There is a great backing behind all of the show, the characters and everything. There are some preconceived notions of what they are, maybe a little more so than in past years, so there's a little more pressure, yeah."For Slagle, this is her chance to be a real Disney Princess. "This is a dream come true for me, honestly!" she beamed. "This year, learning lines was not as difficult because I've already seen the movie umpteen million times, so I already had most of the script memorized when I looked at it... This is like my dream role."
Over the past few weeks the cast and crew, which number around 40, have taken on the challenge of coming together and working as a team.
"Everyone is really working collaboratively. Last year I worked with fewer people in my scenes, so this year it's been more of a collaborative effort. There are big chorus numbers, a lot of tech stuff we have to bring in, special effects, more lights and set," said Bashore.
Carnahan noted, "My favorite part of the show is the people -- the cast, the crew, we're all just like a big happy family. Families have their problems, but fortunately in the Drama Department there has been a short supply of actual drama!"
The experience has even been a good one for first-timer Reichert -- one he would recommend to others.
"For the people who have never been in a musical, like me, I've always been the person to be into sports and everything else, just give it a try," he encouraged. "Give the arts a try, choirs, bands, everything else. You might be surprised at how much fun you have."
Showtime is at 7 p.m. April 19-21 at the NPAC. Tickets are on sale now at the NPAC Box Office and are $8 for adults, $6 for students, and $4 for children age five and under.