Portsmouth High School (PHS) is preparing to bring the magic to their stage this year, as the PHS choral music department rehearses and prepares for the classic French fairy tale of “Beauty and the Beast.”
The music was written by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The book is by Linda Woolverton and is an adaptation of the 1991 Disney movie of the same name. The musical has grossed over $1.4 billion worldwide and has become a favorite among high schools to produce. The show ran for 5,461 performances on Broadway between 1994 and 2007, and now tours the country with Broadway Across America.
The story follows a young book enthusiast named Belle, who trades her freedom for her father’s, after he is kidnapped. The captor is a dreadful beast, whose castle lies deep in the woods, separated by dangerous characters and wolves. After Belle’s father escapes and makes it back to his village, he calls for the help of the villagers, who quickly label him as insane.
An arrogant suitor, Gaston, takes advantage of the moment to gain Belle’s hand in marriage with a scheme involving blackmail. Meanwhile, Belle discovers many interesting characters, all household appliances that have human-like features and entertain by song and dance. Belle slowly learns that the Beast isn’t as bad as she originally perceived, but could things be too late for the two? Insane asylums, angry mobs, evil witches, magical roses, talking teapots and more create the magic and mayhem of the Beauty and the Beast.
Sally Gower, vocal music instructor at PHS, is closing her 30-year music career at Portsmouth City Schools with this year’s production.
“I am really excited because we have a great cast,” Gower stated. “The show is going to be fantastic. I’m not bittersweet. I want to leave while I’m still at the top of my game and not the person they can’t wait to see walk out the door and never come back.”
Gower said that the decision to produce “Beauty and the Beast” came from her idea of giving her students a show that is more whimsical than they are used to performing.
“I wanted to give the kids an opportunity to do something that isn’t just a general Broadway piece. It is very cartoonesque and the characters in it are a lot different from what we’ve done in the past few years,” Gower explained. “I also have the people to pull off the show, which is important.”
The show choir students have all been forming the bond that all theatre people understand , during the five weeks of rehearsal they have had. With the opening just over a week away, they are getting very anxious for the curtain call and the chance to show off these interesting characters.
“Many of the kids are excited for the nuances of these character types,” Gower said. “Not only the leading characters, but the ensemble characters.”
Johnie Charles, senior, is taking the limelight under heavy makeup and costume as Beast, one of the two title characters and one of the most known characters of Disney. This role is the second leading role Charles has had. He was last seen two years ago as Jud Fry in PHS’s production of “Oklahoma.”
“He is trapped in his castle and has become fierce. He hates what he has become and never wanted it to turn out like this. He never thinks that the one girl will come, but then she does and it is Belle,” Charles said, describing his character in the show. “At first, it is really rough having her there, but he soon learns to love and breaks the spell.”
Charles explained that he feels like he knows what he is doing, since he has been in a musical before. He is glad to have the opportunity to be in “Beauty and the Beast,” which he says is a bit different from what he has done with PHS in the past.
“I love it. I love everything about it. It different, but it is definitely a great experience,” Charles said. “I’m a big Disney fan, so I’m happy. I am sad that this is Mrs. Gower’s last year, but I’m giving it all I have for her and the whole cast.”
Katie Wells, senior, fell in love with music her eighth grade year and was involved in three different choirs by the time she was in ninth grade. She has been involved in show choir for four years, is a member of Scioto County Honors Choir, is involved in her church choir, SSU’s ensemble and has taken private voice lessons with Dr. Stanley Workman. Wells will take the stage in the classic yellow dress and book in hand as Belle.
“We didn’t get to do a musical last year and I really missed it. I’ve never had a lead before, so it is very exciting,” Wells said. “It is going to be my last role, since I am a senior this year. I’m really glad it is one I love though.”
Wells said that she has enjoyed pouring herself over the music and has even learned everyone’s songs, because she really enjoys the music in this show.
“I grew up on Beauty and the Beast,” said Wells. “I guess it was pretty much my first favorite movie. We are doing the Broadway version, which has songs that aren’t in the movie, but they are songs everyone will know.”
Portsmouth High School will open the curtains on “Beauty and the Beast” March 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. and March 23 at 2:30 p.m. General admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students and $20 for the reserved seating section. Information can be obtained by requesting Sally Gower at 740-353-2398.
“I think it should be very well received because there is something in it for everyone,” Gower said. “There is something in it for seasoned theatre goers, for children and for the young at heart.”
Joseph Pratt can be reached at the Portsmouth Daily Times, 740-353-3101, EXT 287 or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.