'Beauty and the Beast' opens Peoria Players season

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Belle Beast 2
Belle Beast 1

For years Peoria Players has tried to get the rights to produce Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” but was stymied for one reason or another. Other local community theatres had done it, but Players, the oldest continuously running community theatre in Illinois, had not.

Until now.

The Peoria Players production of the classic opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. and is off to a good start as opening night is sold out. “Wow, that’s great. That is exactly what we hoped for,” said Jimmy Ulrich, who was chosen to direct the show that opens Peoria Player’s 98th season and is scheduled for eight performances and might get at least one more as it runs through Sept. 18.

“I love this show and I always have. My mother (prolific director Mary Ellen Ulrich) always wanted to direct it and tried to get it for year but she couldn’t get the royalties because it was touring all the time. That’s because it’s so popular. When we found out a year ago we could get it, I told her but she said I should do it, instead. So I submitted it,” said Ulrich, who directed “Damn Yankees” two seasons ago for Peoria Players.

That was before learning that Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria also planned to do “Beauty and the Beast” this year as community theatres wanted to get the show before a new version comes out next year. The Eastlight production was in June.

“We planned to do it and we decided we were going to stick to our guns. And we had no problem getting a cast,” Ulrich said. “I really don’t think it’s going to hurt us that Eastlight just did it because people really do love this show. And look, our opening night is sold out. They still want to see it.”

Jillian Risinger, who has been seen on local stages frequently the last couple of years, portrays Belle in the Peoria Players production. Usually cast in roles that call for a brassy, loud person with strong acting and singing skills, this is somewhat a departure, Ulrich said.

“And yet, while this isn’t her usual type of role because Belle is more quiet and reserved, she does play her as more of a feminist. She doesn’t take anything from anybody. In fact, it’s my opinion that Belle actually kicked off the feminist female lead movement because she is quiet but strong and she goes out and saves her father,” Ulrich said.

Tyler Smith portrays the Beast, who is a prince before being turned hideous as a curse. A student at Bradley University, Smith is the youngest to play the role in adult community theatre in the Peoria region. But Ulrich said he is more than capable.

“Tyler has done many shows in the area and plenty of adult shows. He knows what he’s doing on stage and he fits the bill here really well,” he said.

Other lead roles are portrayed by Josh Hammond (Lumiere), Jeremy Kelly (Gaston), Jake Van Hoorn (Cogsworth), Katy Hawley Ailshie (Madam De La Grande Bouche), Curt Rowden (Maurice), Andrew Schoepke (LeFou), Courtney Arnett (Babette), Maddox Stephens as Chip in his stage debut and Angie Dorough as Mrs. Potts.

“I have a great cast and great people backstage,” he said.

Rebecca Sierra is in charge of makeup and Jill Barr is in charge of costumes, two very key items in a show like this.

Diedre Kaiser was the choreographer and Julie Simmons the music director. The 10-piece orchestra is conducted by Shawn Degenhart. Kaitlin Seaman is assistant director.

“I hope audiences will fall in love with this show all over again. I also hope they see why we and other theatres pay tribute to this Disney classic,” Ulrich said.

Show times for “Beauty and the Beast” are 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17 and at 2 p.m. on Sept. 11, 17 and 18. Ulrich said the matinee on Saturday Sept. 17 was added for younger audiences.

Tickets are $19 for adults and $12 for patrons 20 and younger. To order visit www.peoriaplayers.org or call (309) 688-4473.

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).