NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - The New Providence High School Theater Department presented their production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” this past weekend. “Beauty and the Beast” was shown through a special
arrangement with Music Theater International.
Co-Producers Craig Duke, Susan Kirkland, and Leslie Ditta all explained their interest in choosing a family-friendly musical this year.
Said Kirkland, who was also the musical director, “Since our school is deeply rooted in our community, we like to choose shows that resonate with our families and neighbors. 'Beauty and the Beast' is a particularly fitting show, because it provides entertainment for young and old.”
“We wanted to do 'Beauty and the Beast' this year because we wanted something that kids and families would enjoy,” said Duke, who also stage directed the show. “We did Gilbert and Sullivan’s 'Pirates of Penzance' last year, and this year we wanted to change things up and go in a new direction. We’d kind of had this show in the back of our minds for a few years,” he added.
Ditta agreed. “'Beauty and the Beast' is a great show and we’re so excited to do it. It’s truly a family show, and we’re very happy this year to have had so many kids come see it,” she said.
The production staff, cast, and parent volunteers coordinated a Character Breakfast on March 9, which offered a special show preview to the community. Kids who attended ate breakfast, made crafts, and enjoyed story time with Belle.
The publicity and promotion, headed by Paula Roper, certainly paid off, as the Friday and Saturday evening shows were sold out. The Sunday matinee was heavily attended by families, with many young children dressing up as their favorite Disney characters to see the show.
The show featured 40 NPHS students in the cast, with a student-based pit orchestra and stage crew. Nine New Providence Elementary school children were also cast.
The show began with a prologue narrated by Dominique Paredes-Rupp, with help from the children and an illuminating puppet show designed by Amanda Droussiotis.
Said Kirkland of the production process, “It has been remarkable to see the show develop from concept to the first read through to opening night. The amount of growth that occurs in such a short time is immeasurable. It is so exciting to see what the students do with their roles.”
There were plenty of roles for the cast to develop. Senior Hannah Black played Belle, and expertly stepped up to the challenge of playing such a central role. Said Black, “Memorizing the lines was the most challenging part of playing Belle. We have such great actors here though, so it was easy to get everything into place.”
Black’s enchanting performance as Belle was her last at NPHS, as she will be graduating in June. She reflected on her time in the theater program, saying that “My experiences with the theater program at NPHS have been great. This is my fourth musical here, and Beauty and the Beast is a great one to go out on. We have a fantastic music department and theater program and they’re all so supportive, so it’s been a really great experience,” she said.
Eric Roper, also a senior, played the temperamental but kindhearted Beast. Said Roper, “I think the Beast is one of the most challenging characters to play because of the sheer amount of emotion that has to go into it.” Roper certainly succeeded in instilling emotion into his character, as a few members of the audience could be seen shedding a tear or two after his solo “If I Can’t Love Her.”
Said Roper of his experience with NPHS Theater: “It’s weird to be a senior and to be leaving next year. I’m expecting full post-musical depression to kick in next week! It’s really fun to work with Mr. Duke, Ms. Kirkland, and Ms. Ditta, because they’re all really great teachers. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years,” he said. “And even though I’m leaving after this year, I don’t think I could think of more capable hands to leave the NPHS productions with than my underclassmen friends and cast mates.”
The Alternative Press spoke to several other cast members about their experiences with Beauty and the Beast and NPHS Theater.
James Whiting, Lumiere, senior: “It was very interesting working with the large candle hand-pieces that Lumiere has. I know that some of my other castmates had a hard time getting used to their boxes or pots,” he said of the show’s elaborate costumes, “but we got used to them!”
Whiting added that he had “had a wonderful time being in NPHS shows.” The audience responded positively to his impeccable comic timing, dancing, and French accent. Like Hannah Black and Eric Roper, this was his last NPHS show.
“But we have a lot of new people coming in; a lot of fresh talent, a lot of new, creative energy. I think that helped to make the show really good. I’m really proud of everyone’s hard work and it’s been a wonderful show,” Whiting said.
Senior Jamie Currie played Cogsworth, the tightly-wound clock-butler. “It was a challenge working in the box that is my clock costume! I managed to get it down to a science, though,” he said. His ability to jump around in a grandfather clock costume and his humorous remarks were expertly timed. “I started participating in NPHS Theater when I was a sophomore, and I kind of went into it not really knowing what to expect, but I’m really glad I did it. I wish I’d done it my freshman year too. I’m just really glad that I stuck with it. I’ve made a lot of great friends here,” Currie added.
Stefan Suric, a junior, talked about what it was like to be in the Ensemble: “I get to play diverse parts, from a townsperson to an enchanted servant! The great thing about ensemble is that you get to be in a lot of musical numbers, and it’s a great experience. This is my third year doing an NPHS show, and it is just fantastic. I’ve seen other high school shows, and as great as they are, I think this New Providence cast really bonds together every single year, and that’s awesome.”
Said freshman Rachel Kowalewski, “I play Chip, the enchanted teacup. Sometimes I was the only freshman at the rehearsals for the principal parts, but the upperclassmen were all so nice and welcoming.” Kowalewski spoke about the challenges of playing an inanimate object. “For most of the show I’m being wheeled around in a tea cart, and only my head is visible to the audience.”
Despite this, Kowalewski’s line delivery garnered much laughter from the audience. “It’s been fun, and the cast and crew have been great in helping me move around!” she said.
Most of the cast spoke about the costumes, many of which were designed by Ann Lowe. NPHS also rented some of the elaborate costumes of the enchanted servants from SCARAMOUCHE Costumes LLC of Chester NJ, owned by Mark Happel and Bob Jacobsen. Many of the costumes came from a national tour of the show.
Junior MaryKate Grimes commented about the costumes. “Trying to incorporate the large costumes of the Beast’s enchanted servants was occasionally an issue. The costumes were amazing, though. But we had choreographed all the numbers, and then all of a sudden people were wearing these huge costumes! We did have to change a lot of choreography around. That was definitely a challenge, but the cast has been very cooperative, and very willing to work.”
Fifth-grade cast member Caitlin Grogan summed it up, saying that “It was really fun to be in a high school show. It was very fun getting to be in costume. Normally in the elementary school plays, you just bring in your own clothes to be your costume. But for this show we got cool costumes!”
Sophomore Will Roper faced challenges beyond costumes. He was cast as Lefou, Gaston’s bumbling sidekick, a mere two and a half weeks prior to opening night (the previous Lefou was unfortunately unable to continue the role). “I had to memorize everything quickly and really step up my game, because everyone else had been working on this for the past 3 months, and I sort of got thrown in here,” he said. However, those unaware of the situation had no idea of Roper’s short rehearsal time. His slapstick comedy was perfectly timed, and he was able to develop the comic character far beyond just “memorizing.”
Other principal roles included senior Victoria Ortega as kind teapot-housekeeper Mrs. Potts, Perry Spiegel as the dashing but pompous villain Gaston, Henry Lee as Belle’s quirky but caring father Maurice, Dominique Paredes-Rupp as the dramatic Madame De La Grande Bouche, Jose Quesada as the delightfully twisted villain Monsieur D’Arque, Lauren Charlton, Clare Flanagan, Jessica Rinato as the village Silly Girls, and Samantha Squeri as the flirtatious French Maid turned feather duster Babette.
To put on a show known equally for its “tale as old as time” and its rousing musical numbers, NPHS Theater rehearsed long hours each week, beginning over three months before showtime.
Said Michael Niedziejko, who directed the orchestra and conducted the show’s music: “A lot of the choreographed big numbers have sections that are not so well defined as far as the lengths of musical phrases and things like that go. So, we have to coordinate certain actions onstage with the music. That was a challenge, but through repetition we were able to work it out.”
“It was a lot of fun to choreograph a huge dancing show,” said Leslie Ditta, speaking of her role as choreographer. “It was also very challenging that there were a lot of big musical numbers, and we wanted to make sure that everyone was included and moved around stage in a way that looked good and was efficient,” she said.
“Be Our Guest” was the biggest dance number, which many will recall from the Disney movie. The ensemble sung the number with James Whiting as Lumiere covering the solos. The entire cast sang and danced well, even in a variety of large costumes such as utensils and cutlery, four foot diameter plates, salt and pepper shakers, a sparkly sugar bowl, measuring spoons, a cheese grater, a cartwheeling carpet, and Can-Can napkin girls.
Later on in the show, the enchanted servants find creative ways to defend their home from invasion by a mob of Beast-hunting townspeople in an elaborately choreographed and blocked battle.
MaryKate Grimes said that her dual role as Dance Captain and Featured Dancer “really gave me an opportunity to spend a lot of time with the cast, and it made the show even better for me. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with everyone, which made the show so much more fun. We have a great group of people participating in NPHS Theater,” she said.
This group includes more than just the people onstage, as Props Mistress Caitlyn Roper pointed out. “I graduated NPHS in 2010, but while I was a student here I was in the cast of the NPHS theater productions. Being on crew is so much different from being in the show, because when you’re in the show, you have to remember your lines, choreography, your entrances and exits, and so on. Backstage, it’s almost even more hectic!” said Roper. “The crew is working so hard and they’ve all done such a marvelous job. This cast is one of the most professional I’ve ever worked with, especially when it comes to putting the props back where they belong. That’s been really helpful and has made my job a lot easier,” she said.
Susan Kirkland added that “New Providence School District has a longstanding tradition of excellence in performing arts education. This is the result of the combined efforts of highly dedicated and hard working arts teachers, a supportive community, faculty, administration, and Board of Education members who understand the value of an arts education. This show could never have been possible without the contributions of these people. We are very pleased that we can give back to the community through all of our performances throughout the year.”
The community in attendance at the Sunday matinee had only praise for the production and for all involved. The audience stayed to watch the cast and crew present thank-you bouquets of roses to the parent volunteers, faculty, and students who helped them in the production of the show. Afterwards, the cast signed autographs and posed for pictures with the younger audience members.
Beauty and the Beast marked Niedziejko’s 19th show as NPHS Orchestra Director. He summarized the whole experience by saying that “Every year is different and every year is special. It’s a great program that we have here at NPHS.”