BUCKFIELD — Roughly 40 students crowd around elongated clothing racks, searching for their outfits, as one high schooler walks by, carrying his shirt and proclaiming in a British accent, “I need pantaloons.”
It’s a normal Friday afternoon in the Buckfield High School cafeteria, where the cast ranging from first through 12th grade is gathered for a partial dress rehearsal for the upcoming production of “Beauty and the Beast.” The performance will be held at 7 p.m. Friday through Saturday, April 3 through April 11 and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, April 5 and 12 at the Buckfield High School auditorium, 160 Morrill St. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors and can be purchased at the main office at the high school and Tilton’s Market at 11 Turner St.
High school music and drama teacher Ethan Wright — who’s in charge of the play along with his wife and Hartford Sumner Elementary School music teacher Meghan Wright — warns patrons to get tickets early because they usually sell out.
The rehearsal kicks off with the entire cast on stage, singing the opening number as Ethan Wright plays the song on the piano. As the students grab their costumes, he checks out the set — which includes the interior and exterior of the castle, along with a tower and library, and parts of the village — assembled on the stage in the cafeteria. Some of the set was built over several weekends by students, parents and volunteers, and some was constructed during his stage craft class during the school day.
“It is education every time you go to school, so do it like the pros. Do it as much as you can and really learn about the craft and theater,” Wright said, adding there’s a full orchestra comprised of local musicians for the performance. “It really gives the kids the full experience.”
Even though it’s not a large stage, the space around it, including the steps and the doors flanking either side, is fully utilized. This helps keep the playing moving along, often times with actors and actresses in perpetual motion during the musical numbers, just like the Disney movie.
Wright estimated there’s roughly 60 people involved in the production, which includes the cast, stage hands, set crew, parents and volunteers. It’s the first time the couple has produced “Beauty and the Beast,” but is their ninth musical in the district. Auditions were held just after Christmas break and rehearsals have been held three times a week since then, lasting for nearly 3.5 hours after school.
After the opening number is the narration of the story’s background, told by a booming backstage voice. Art student Jared Eastman has clocked in more than 200 hours so far to craft four giant head puppets, which takes three people operate, Wright said. They were still under construction last week and when finished, will represent the prince who’s transformed into the beast by the old woman, who really is an enchantress.
“I try to find kids with special skills and talents and incorporate it some how,” Wright said.
Sophomore Laney Randolph, landed the coveted role of Belle that she and many others wanted.
“I watched it a lot when I was a kid,” she said about the movie. “She’s my favorite.”
She’s been acting since sixth grade where she played in “The Wizard of Oz.” This is the most acting Randolph’s done to date since it’s a lead role, but she’s enjoying working with her fellow students.
“I just like everybody,” she said. “I think this is one of the most fun casts so far.”
Reilley Hicks was cast as Lumiere and admits she originally wanted to star as Belle.
“I think every girl wanted to be Belle,” she said.
She’s since changed her mind after exploring her role as a man-turned-candle as a result of the enchantment on the castle and all its inhabitants.
“I think this is more fun than Belle,” Hicks said. “Not everybody gets to say they get to play a French candle.”
As for the more than 10 hours a week she spends at rehersal, she said it is a lot of time and effort, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s worth it and I love it,” Hicks said. “My favorite part is when you make the audience laugh.”
Freshman Andrew Warren landed the role of Maurice, Belle’s mad scientist-like father. It wasn’t the role he wanted, but he’s enjoying playing Maurice more and more. As for the stage fright?
“I think everybody gets a little bit of stage fright,” Andrew Warren said. “I think it’s the idea of getting over it and getting used to the idea of people watching you.”
There was no sign of any nerves when Andrew Warren as Maurice rolled a wonky looking contraption comprised of gadgets and various parts on stage.
Warren’s older brother, senior Jesse Warren, is also a member of the cast and plays antagonistic Gaston, who wants to marry Belle. Jesse Warren munched on a snack bar in between scenes and said that his two sisters are in the play as well. He kept most of his words for the stage, simply saying that he enjoys the experience, and one other little thing.
“I like singing,” he said, matter-of-factly.