Beauty is not skin deep. It goes farther.
Immanuel Lutheran School eighth-grader Jonathan Neawedde said the way he sees it, that’s the message behind the school’s upcoming production of “Beauty and the Beast Jr.”
In this adaptation of the original Broadway production that ran for more than 13 years and was nominated for nine Tony Awards and the Academy Award-winning motion picture, the story of transformation and tolerance is still at the forefront.
It also features some of the most popular songs written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman along with new songs by Menken and Tim Rice.
“I started out the show thinking it was going to be kind of a princessy thing, but this thing has depth to it,” said Neawedde, who had only seen clips of the original Disney animated movie but saw the live action version.
The classic story tells of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed to his former self. Time, though, is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity.
In the “tale as old as time,” Neawedde plays the role of Prince/Beast. He said he likes the depth of his character and how he changes.
The cast of 67 Immanuel students in grades 6 to 8 had a dress rehearsal Monday night to prepare for its performances at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the school, 520 S. Chestnut St., Seymour.
“Honestly, tech week, it’s just the best part because everything is just so hectic. It’s just something to live for. It’s really fun,” said Neawedde, who has done several shows with Jackson County Community Theatre. “I’ve been in other plays before, so I just thought this is my last year here, I might as well do one.”
Fellow eighth-grader Kelly Beavers plays the other lead role, Belle. She said she really likes participating in the school’s annual musical.
“Since it was my last year, I wanted to do something big, so I was like, ‘I might as well just go for the main character,’” she said.
She describes Belle as a brave and outgoing person who is not timid and says what she wants to say.
“It has been fun because onstage, you’re usually nervous, but with that character, it gives you a lot of confidence to do it,” Beavers said.
She, too, likes the message of the show.
“It’s kind of like don’t judge a book by its cover. Go for somebody’s personality,” she said. “I really like (the show). It’s probably one of my favorites that we’ve done so far. I’m looking forward to my family watching it because I have little cousins and they really like Disney, so they are really excited. I’m really excited, and I think it’s going to be a really good show.”
Leah Schneider, who is directing the production with Paul Scheiderer, said this is the sixth junior high musical at Immanuel.
They pick the show in the summer, and Schneider orders it from Music Theatre International in the fall. That company and Samuel French are responsible for licensing Disney titles. MTI offers scaled-down versions of the larger productions that are put on by high schools.
The cast comes from students in Schneider’s performing arts class and others from the school who want to audition. In January, they began rehearsing before and after school.
“They’ve really gotten into the characters,” Schneider said. “It has always been impressive to me.”
This is her 40th year of teaching, and she has done a musical every year.
“I did junior high musicals at Jennings County, and it was such a success,” Schneider said. “It’s amazing what these kids can do. It’s amazing how much energy they have. If you channel that energy in the right direction, they actually do a decent job. I’ve been really excited how well they’ve all gotten into character and what they are doing.”
Schneider said while some of the costumes were borrowed from Trinity Lutheran High School, where she teaches music, a lot of the Immanuel kids made or ordered their own.
Sam Dyer, a seventh-grader, plays the role of Gaston. He said he was glad to see a show chosen that has a lot of parts for male actors.
“I knew I would be good with Gaston because he sings a lot,” he said. “That was what I was mainly worried about. I didn’t want to be the Beast because he doesn’t sing that much, but with Gaston, he sings a lot. The singing, it adds on a whole new element. It allows me to show my talents through that way.”
Gaston is vain, which Dyer said is interesting to portray because he’s the opposite of his character.
“You can ask anybody here, I am not vain, so me being able to act like that is awesome. It’s fun,” he said, smiling. “I’m excited to do it because I know it’s going to be awesome to have everybody applauding and laughing at it.”
Like the other actors, he likes the message of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“It’s all about knowing people who they are on the inside, not how they look and not how they act in particular but what they really are,” Dyer said.
Eighth-grader Alex Overgaard plays the role of Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou.
“I was fine with any male part or any other parts that were just side characters,” he said. “He’s short, he’s always thinking and if he’s uncomfortable in a situation, he wants to get out of that as fast as possible. He’s also scavenging for himself. He finds something, he keeps it.”
He enjoys playing a character who is a funny sidekick because he likes making the audience laugh.
”I like the fact that it’s very free,” he said. “You can have a lot of movement and be yourself up there.”
If you go
What: Immanuel Lutheran School’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast Jr.”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Where: Gymnasium at the school, 520 S. Chestnut St., Seymour
Tickets: $5 for adults and $3 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade; available during school hours or at the door
Information: Call 812-522-1301 or visit immanuelschool.org
Directors: Leah Schneider and Paul Scheiderer
Cast: Rylan Adair, Kelly Beavers, McKenna Bobb, Daniel Bode, Lauren Brown, Jane Browning, Gillian Bumbleburg, Mina Croquart, Emma Doriot, Elizabeth Downey, Sam Dyer, Cadin Gruenwald, Cheyenne Hallett, Alana-Jo Hammett, Blayklee Hancock, Claire Hatfield, Addy Helton, Emory Helton, Liv Holle, Samantha Kamman, Taylor Kramer, Hannah Lorenz, Emma Mellencamp, Jonathan Neawedde, Alex Overgaard, Sam Parisi, Brody Pendleton, Alexis Stuckwisch, Taylor Stuckwisch, Bella Wehmiller and Brooklyn Whipker
Chorus: Jada Barker, Jarrett Barker, Jamie Bobb, Braxton Bode, Brody Brown, Jacobi Burns, Hazel Cain, Merrek Combs, Zoe Croquart, Brody Davis, Anna Fish, Emilee Followell, Jackson Fox, Kennady Hardman, Hannah Helt, Elleigh Kiel, Rose Kruse, Mack Longmeier, Joe Mau, Reed Mellencamp, Lincoln Morford, Nathan Negrete, Abi Otte, Katy Roark, DeAnna Rothert, Jackson Self, Kole Shewmaker, Kooper Smith, Lucas Storey, Elijah Tempest, Mallory Thompson, Jackson Trueblood, Liza Vaughn, Claire Wichman, Zoe Williams and Lane Woodard