JEFFERSON — Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” differentiates true beauty from mere appearances.
Jefferson Middle School’s 2020 musical, which opens tonight on the Jefferson High School auditorium stage, juxtaposes a human who looks like a beast against a man who appears handsome but whose actions are inhumane. Both leading men play off against the main character, Belle, whose outer beauty is matched by her inner generosity of spirit.
The show first was made popular as a Disney movie that enchanted millions worldwide and left audiences humming the tunes on their way home.
Jefferson Middle School’s middle-level version of the same show is offset by a stunning set of backdrops, costumes and props as it brings to life a legendary village in France, the wolf-ridden forest on its border and the mysterious castle that stands on the horizon.
Playing the main character, Belle (French for “Beauty”) is Payton Schmidt. In this version of the familiar fairy tale, Belle is a lovely but bookish young woman who’d rather read a dusty old volume than flirt.
Gaston, played by Tyler Fredrick, knows he’s a fine physical specimen, bold and brawny and a great hunter. He’s everything a girl could want in a man — and he doesn’t shy away from expressing that opinion out loud.
His hunting prowess, muscles and swagger cause girls to swoon at his feet, while men want to stand at his side. But Gaston, to whom appearance is all, has eyes only for Belle. So sure of himself is Gaston that he announces their marriage without even asking the proposed bride-to-be.
Problem is, she’s not interested.
Meanwhile, Belle’s father, a doddering inventor, gets lost in the woods and ends up at the Beast’s castle, where he’s imprisoned for trespassing. Once a human prince, the Beast scorned a simple gift from an old lady years ago and was transformed by the enchantress into a hideous beast, to regain his true form only if he can learn to love and earn someone’s love in return.
Learning of her father’s imprisonment, Belle travels to the castle and offers to stay in his place so the sick old man can return home — but she makes no promises to honor the Beast with her presence at dinner.
Though her host is gruff and imperious, the servants at the castle offer a warm welcome and they swiftly become Belle’s friends.
Cast as Mrs. Potts the teapot is Kiara Cherry, whose lovely voice carries the title song. Lumiere the candlestick, played by Gavin Porter, is eye-catching with glowing candle hands and hat and a shimmering gold-lame outfit, and Quinn Rundle adds humor as Cogsworth, the worried and rather rule-bound clock.
Rounding out the main cast are Hunter Jacobson as Belle’s father Maurice, Cale Schmidt as Gaston’s sidekick and punching bag Lefou; Landyn Alvarado as Chip the juvenile cup, Jordan Fleege as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Kat Kawleski as the enchantress, Dakota Alvarado as asylum director Monsieur D’Arque; and “Silly Girls” Rilynne Preston, Claire Griffith and Maggie Mindemann.
Overall, the production involves 115 students, including some 97 actors and 17 crew members.
“I think it’s our largest group yet,” said Lindy Perkins, music director. “It is a big cooperative endeavor and the kids have a lot of fun with it.”
Auditions took place in October and rehearsals started in November, with full-cast rehearsals Monday every day after school starting in January.
Due to the longer-than-usual winter break, this year’s performers had a week less of practice than the middle school usually does, which meant they really had to pull things together swiftly once they got into the auditorium earlier this month.
“One of the exciting things about this production is the immense number of elaborate props and set pieces it takes,” said Jordan Dresdow, stage director and choreographer. “It’s way more than we ever had.”
Dresdow commended parent Angela Griffith for creating the “amazing costumes” in conjunction with her student crew. In addition to the specialty costumes made particularly for this production, including Belle’s spot-on ballgown that just might eclipse the movie costume, the JMS players were able to borrow a few costumes from Jefferson High School and from Fort Atkinson Community Theatre.
Meanwhile, Amy Rundle, another community volunteer, made a vast array of prop and set pieces, assisted by Jeremy Clifton.
“We have a really talented group of students,” Dresdow said. “I am impressed with how well they’re able to maneuver on stage, especially when we have a chorus of 50 people up there.”
“The showstopper is ‘Be Our Guest,’ with all of the fabulous costumes,” Perkins said. “We have all of these kitchen utensils on parade.”
Students also played a large part in running the production, from the sound to the lights to curtains and stage-managing roles, Dresdow said.
The production is a great learning experience for students of all talents and interests, Perkins said. For many students, drama provides an outlet they just cannot get anywhere else. It also is a great way to round out students’ education, building confidence, skill, dexterity and creativity.
“This is their time to shine,” she said.
Perkins said she would love to see everyone come for the production, which runs about an hour and is appropriate for all ages.
Performances will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and at 2 p.m. Saturday. Music director Lindy Perkins said that the entire JMS drama program is self-funded and that the proceeds from this year’s show will go to support next year’s production.
Tickets for the production cost $5 each and are available in the lobby starting an hour before each show. People also may use their credit card to purchase tickets at jmsdrama.ticketleap.com.