“This is a Disney show, so it is filled with magic,” said actress Hailey Nelsen.
The musical will be on stage Saturday and Sunday, March 16 and 17, at the Decatur Civic Center. Both shows are sold out.
Hailey will be one of two Belles to perform the well-known musical.
The PERFORM! casts follow the popular story told in the 1991 Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast” in which an outcast named Belle meets a man trapped in a beast’s body. “She lives in a dull little town, but she wants something more,” Hailey said. “As soon as she meets the Beast, she gets that.”
The large group of actors are separated into two casts, the Rice cast and Ashman cast. The groups are named after the writers of the Disney production Tim Rice and Howard Ashman. Each rendition has 60 cast members.
PERFORM! is a children’s theatrical program for ages 6 to 18. The students practice December through March with rehearsals for the upcoming plays beginning in January. “It is a labor of love as you try to bring two cast together,” said Marie Jagger-Taylor, show producer.
The Decatur Youth Symphony Orchestra will be joining the cast for this year’s performance. Both casts have approximately 10 weekends to bring the play to life.
Morgen Mosley, 29, is the director for “Beauty and the Beast.” Like the students, Mosley enjoys the experience and opportunity PERFORM! gives to the young talent in Central Illinois. Directing two casts is a challenge for the young director, but it is a challenge she is excited to take on.
“Seeing how each actor brings their own to the character and, as the director, I then go for what the actor needs,” she said. “I find the beauty in each, instead of trying to make the same thing twice.”
The directors said they tap into the actors’ personalities. “Each will have different strengths and different senses of humor,” Jagger-Taylor said.
Other features to the musical include the costumes and sets. With a limited funds, the directors reach out to Millikin University, volunteers and parents. “They have to work with 120 kids on a shoestring budget,” Jagger-Taylor said.
Although the musical became well-known more than 25 years ago, the story is still heard today.
“It still has the same effect that things aren’t always as they seem,” said Liv Crabtree, Belle of the Ashman cast.
According to Mosley, the show has a central theme. “Everything is not what it seems,” she said. “How quickly are we viewing things and putting a label on it before we get to know what is underneath.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the actors believe a new audience will understand or maybe even have had the same experiences as the characters. “They would catch it instantly,” said Taggart Martin, Beast of the Ashman cast. “It is a show that changes perspectives.”
One of the challenges is creating costumes for two casts. Taggart is a different size than Colin Hayes, Beast of the Rice cast. Both actors will be wearing their own masks, exposing only portions of their faces. Shoulder pads are also part of the costume.
According to Jagger-Taylor, the costumes are another part of the experience for both the audience as well as the actors.
“It is our goal with the park district is to keep the arts available and accessible,” she said.
Clarifications made to original article.