TCJr. cast works and plays hard in “Beauty and the Beast”

Nine-year-old Mattie Ryan (left) and 10-year-old Kate Moore (right) play Salt & Pepper in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” at Theatre Charlotte. Performances will be held Tuesday, July 10, through July 15. Dee Grano/SCW photo

Theatre Charlotte showcases top young talent in July production 

by Dee Grano

“Where’s my fork?” calls choreographer Lisa Blanton, as countless kids buzz around the stage of Theatre Charlotte in rehearsals for “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” Complete with dancing flatware and singing furniture, TCJr.’s production will feature Charlotte’s most talented young actors Tuesday, July 10, through, July 15, with both morning and afternoon shows.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students. More information is available at www.theatrecharlotte.org.

The plot is familiar: the brainy and beautiful Belle seeks escape from her provincial life when she becomes trapped in Beast’s enchanted castle. Those familiar with the Disney movie version will enjoy the same musical numbers with an abbreviated script designed to run an hour. “It’s the full Broadway score, just shortened,” said Ron Law, executive director of Theatre Charlotte.

TCJr. is Theatre Charlotte’s new concept in student theater production for youth 9 to 14 years of age. More than 80 young people auditioned but only 35 were cast. Most of the younger cast members play chorus and supporting roles, while high school and college students perform the leads.

When not onstage, many of the college students work with the younger students, rehearsing music and serving as mentors. Every educational opportunity is taken during downtime.

“TCJr. is much more than a summer camp,” Law said. “With only a two-and-a-half-week-long rehearsal period, it’s more like summer stock.” Though young, the students understand the competitive nature of the program and work hard. “They wouldn’t be that focused or attentive if they weren’t into it,” Law said.

(Top) Choreographer Lisa Blanton leads a rehearsal for “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” at Theatre Charlotte. The show features young actors ages nine through college-age. Performances will be held Tuesday, July 10 through July 15. Photo courtesy of Chris Timmons

“In school I was just like these kids,” said Jamey Varnadore, director of “Beauty and the Beast.” He fell in love with theater as a West Charlotte High School student. Today he is a professional performer, choreographer and expert costume designer. He also is costuming the show.

“Not everyone is good at sports,” Varnadore continued. “Being part of a production also teaches you how to work as a team.” He adds several of the youth in the production also play sports but are looking for air-conditioned summer fun.

Varnadore says boys love the action and adventure in “Beauty and the Beast,” while the girls connect to the character of Belle. Varnadore appreciates the progressive nature of this 20th century heroine. “She’s into books, she’s funny. She’s not just another pretty princess.”

Alex Veilleux is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Asheville who is home for the summer playing the role of Beast. He practices his roar while driving. He jokes he got the part because, “I’m big and my voice dropped.”

“There’s so much energy in this production,” said Veilleux, who has enjoyed the experience. “Plus, it’s easier than working.”

Many of the older students in “Beauty and the Beast” will appear in an upcoming production of “Pippin” (playing July 20 through 22) produced by Theatre Charlotte’s Student Theatre Guild (STG), a city-wide theater club. STG is governed by teens and features year-round workshops and master classes. This is the third year for STG; their past summer performances of “Cabaret” and “Sweeny Todd” were well-received.

“This is really solid local entertainment,” Law said.

Located in its Myers Park home since 1941, Theatre Charlotte is a volunteer-based community theater. No professional experience is required to audition. The next auditions are July 23 and 24 for “Fiddler on the Roof,” which will debut Theatre Charlotte’s 85th season in September.

During “Beauty and the Beast” rehearsals, Varnadore has seen the young actors and actresses grow in confidence. “Most of these kids will not become theater professionals, but we hope they will be future audience members.”

“The shared experience is what really gets them going,” added Law, who fell in love with acting at the age of eight when he walked onto a stage and got a laugh with his first line. “The fun comes from the process and the work, the socializing comes between or after.”

Nine-year-old Mattie Ryan, who plays a salt shaker, agrees. She likes to make people laugh and find new friends, like 10-year old Kate Moore, who plays her companion condiment “Pepper.”

Moore says she likes to express herself through acting. The applause isn’t bad either.

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