By Bonnie J. Toomey
LITTLETON -- Indian Hill Summer Musical Theater will present "Beauty and the Beast Jr." this weekend at Indian Hill Music School.
The Disney "tale as old as time" will feature students from Indian Hill's Summer Musical Theater between the ages of 8 and 18. "Beauty and the Beast, Jr.", co-directed by Kate Hoth and Susan Bonito, is fully-staged, with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.
"Beauty and the Beast, Jr." is based off the Broadway smash hit and features classic Disney favorites such as "Be Our Guest," "Belle" and the title song.
The adapted staged musical follows Belle's father, Maurice, who becomes lost in the woods and seeks shelter in an old castle, where the master of the castle, a frightening beast-like creature, has taken him captive. Belle gives up her freedom to save her father and she and the Beast reveal how common ground can be found even in differences.
Twelve-year-old Alison Rutyna of Acton sings, acts and dances as Belle. This is Alison's fourth season in the program at Indian Hill.
"I think about what my character wants. For instance, Belle lives in the village and she wants adventure. I think about times I might've been bored and it works well," said Alison, who explained that the "Jr." production is not as long and complex as the original Broadway production.
"You still get to see all the parts and fun songs of Lumiere and Cogsworth -- all the castle servants," she said.
"As far as singing, acting, and dancing, I feel all balanced, but singing is my favorite," added Alison, who studied ballet at Spotlight Dance Academy in Westford and is working closely with the show's choreographers, Jessica Parsons and Mei Mei Sui.
"It's been challenging learning all my lines," she said.
Rutyna has learned how to handle the jitters through her theater training at camp.
"It can be scary up on stage, but I forget the audience is there and totally go for it. Even if I make a mistake I've learned how to ad lib," she said.
Fifteen-year-old Nicole Fiske of Littleton will play the role of the Beast.
"The program is cool. In general everybody at camp is friends and it's a great place to spend four weeks of my summer," said Fiske, who describes the group as a "loving family."
Fiske wrote a backstory of the Beast's character to prepare for the role, a strategy suggested by her directors.
"He's more complex and misunderstood -- people are afraid of what they don't understand," she said.
Fiske loves her costume, complete with fur hands, and a "really cool wig with beard and horns." She says she's working on refining her transformation from Beast to Prince, which is done onstage.
"I have no doubt that I'll be ready. The strobe lights and dancing will help to create the magic," said Fiske, who says it's great to be able to make people smile, and even cry. Fiske, in her second season at camp, plans to make musical theater an important part of her future.
Susan Bonito, who with Kate Hoch is co-producer, said it's been very challenging putting on a show with only 18 days of rehearsal.
Her advice for kids considering next year's auditions is to "certainly work on musicianship and acting skills in school -- chorus or band anything that will help you to read music, sing with projection and practice singing in harmony."
Bonito also encourages kids without any experience to try as well. She says the older students are like mentors to the younger ones just coming in for the first time, and parents really love that aspect.
"The hallmark is that we have a professional staff, and they are professional teachers and working musicians," she said, adding that students receive a lot of support during the musical theater program through vocal coaching, something they are very proud to offer.
"We give students the tools they need to go forward," she said, "and we try to strike a good balance between hard work and fun."
"Beauty and the Beast Jr." will feature 25 young performers from local communities, with musical direction headed by David Lussier.
Performances are Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., at 36 King St. (exit 30 off Interstate 495), Littleton. Tickets are $10 for all ages. Call 978-486-9524 or visit www.indianhillmusic.org.