'Beauty and the Beast' opens Friday at Eastlight

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When doing a musical for the community theatre stage, any director hopes for a show that is visually stunning and has the blend of vocal talent that will enthrall the audiences each night.

Travis Olson believes he got both in his Eastlight Theatre production of “Beauty and the Beast” that opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Byron Moore Auditorium at East Peoria High School.“Because of the technical aspects that Steve Cordle brings to the table with every Eastlight show, this will be a visually stunning show, from the sets to the lighting. The costumes are great, as well,” Olson said.

“As a director you think about a dream cast and well, I’ve got one. With Roger Roemer’s vocal talents as the Beast and the beauty and talent of Jessi Palkovic as Belle, it will be a wonderful show from the top. I can’t wait for audiences to see it,” he said.

Olson said he’s loved “Beauty and the Beast” since the movie came out in 1991 and had a positive experience when he performed in the Corn Stock Theatre production of the musical several years ago. So when he was asked to direct it at Eastlight, “I really didn’t hesitate. And it has been a lot of fun,” he said.

There has been what he called a resurgence in interest in the classic since it was announced a new film version is going to be released next spring. “It’s at the forefront of people’s minds again. There is an excitement about it,” he said.

This production is not the first time in “Beauty and the Beast” for many in the cast. Palkovic was in chorus roles in two previous productions and Barb Couri, who plays Mrs. Potts and sings the title song, played that same role at Corn Stock and was Madame de la Grande Bouche in the previous Eastlight production of “Beauty and the Beast” in 2005.

Also, Zack Binder, who portrays the egomaniac Gaston in this production, was the Beast in that 2005 production. “Zack wanted to play Gaston this time around, so he didn’t audition for the Beast. He said that was a dream role then, but Gaston was one he’s always wanted to play and have fun with and he embodies that role,” Olson said.

Other cast members include Ramsey Hendricks as Lumiere, Scott Moore as Cogsworth, Hannah Wier as Babette, Kayla Siefferman as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Carter Swan as Chip, Brian Haas as Lefou, and Chip Johnson as Maurice.

The cast ranges in age from 6 to 64 but numbers only about 45 people, which is small for this production. Olson said many in the ensemble are busy throughout the show, changing costumes frequently in order to play more than one character.

“They’re always moving and that keeps it lively and fun,” he said.

Songs in “Beauty and the Beast” are well-known and include “Be Our Guest,” “Something There,” “Human Again,” “No Matter What,” the haunting “If I Can’t Love Her” and the title song, “Beauty and the Beast.”

Nicole Fauser was music director for the show, which demands strong voices in each role and chorus part, and Danny Fisher was choreographer. Lisa White handled the costumes, some of which had to be made for this show.

“Beauty and the Beast” will have seven performances, starting at 7:30 p.m. on June 24, 25, 29, 30, July 1 and 2 and at 2 p.m. on June 26. Tickets are $19 and can be purchased online at tickets.eastlighttheatre.com.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).