May 19, 2013
Written by Lois Alcosser
Thursday, 14 March 2013 14:03
Watching a rehearsal of New Canaan High School’s upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast (March 21-23) in the school’s 900-seat theater, it was hard to believe that these performers are high school students, freshmen to seniors. Their appearance, attitudes and talent could quite easily be a Broadway or Off-Broadway ensemble.
Much of this intensity and dedication comes from their director, Deirdre Alexander, who has been directing New Canaan High School Theater students through a long list of plays and musicals, usually four a year, including Sweet Charity, Oklahoma, The Drowsy Chaperone, Peter Pan, Cabaret and more.
In addition to their onstage performance skills, NCHS student productions are truly student productions. They help design the set, build it, paint it, make costumes, do the lighting and sound, stage manage and accomplish all the multiple tasks backstage. Counting the cast, crew and orchestra, more than 60 students are involved in Beauty and the Beast. Every student involved does backstage work as well, including the actors.
Just as in the auditions in A Chorus Line,” students have to act, sing and dance. Christy Coco, who plays Belle, the Beauty, says she seriously wants to have a career in the theater. When asked how she combines schoolwork and performance, she says: “It’s a difficult balance, but it works out.” Vincent De Marco, who plays the Beast, says “In Act One, I’m pretty bad, but then, the character morphs. He starts out bitter, but by the end he’s human. I worked on the songs a lot, to discover more about his character.” Time management is one of the many different skills that director Deirdre Alexander says theater students learn. “They get to know how to work as a team, learn how to focus on their work, take directions and get along with different personalities. They often make friends for life. Of course, they’re teenagers, so not everything goes smoothly all the time. We call it ‘drama- drama’ and it doesn’t ever last very long.” Deirdre and Musical Director Don Rickenback , who also conducts the orchestra, start work on each production well in advance — editing, cutting, staging.
Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was a 1991 animated musical fantasy. It’s based on a French fairy tale, “La Belle et la Bźte,” a quintessential , suspenseful, happy-ending drama. A handsome young man is turned into a beast by a vengeful sorceress. He can only return to his former self if someone (a beautiful female) is willing to love him despite his appearance. After many crises, it happens and presumably, the two live happily ever after. Despite the classical plot, there are many lessons to be learned and the NCHS production has lots of exciting action, including the sight of three of the characters flying high up across the stage.
This production includes many dangerous looking stunts, which the actors have been carefully taught and mastered. Because the requirements are so demanding, the costumes, which are usually student designed and made, were purchased. But three of the most ingenious costumes were made by a student.
The New Canaan High School Theater is immensely productive. As soon as one show ends, another is in the works. For their 2012-2013 season, in May there’ll be their student-created Dramafest with “The unofficial, unauthorized, unabridged versions of Harry Potter,” to be followed by Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Oliver.
Deirdre Alexander was herself a star-struck teenager and played Eliza Doolittle in her first high school production. “I remember, when I told my Mom, she said ‘You can sing?’ When I was growing up, redheads were big on TV, so I did a lot of TV.” She was also in the New York revival of Mame. But she says what she really loves is working with young people. “I understand what these kids go through. Being able to act, sing and dance is a triple threat.” Watching her direct, it’s apparent that her energy, enthusiasm and dedication give the students a wonderful role model.
The NCHS Theater group just won several awards in a high school drama competition. They are obviously in love with the theater and are sure to have another triumph for their resumes with Beauty and the Beast. Performances are Thursday, Friday, March 21, 22, at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. New Canaan High School auditorium, 11 Farm Road, New Canaan. For more information, call 203-594-4600; to buy tickets, visit newcanaan.k12.ct.us/nchs, click on Parents, then Purchase Tickets.
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