The musical "Beauty & the Beast" will bring the story of love and acceptance to stage the next two weekends in Farmington.
Farmington High School music and theatre departments have been busy rehearsing for the musical production as more than 51 students make up the cast and 25 students work on the crew with sound and lighting. About 10 musicians will play stringed instruments in the pit under the direction of parent Dan Julson.
Based on the book written by Linda Woolverton, the story tells how Belle is taken prisoner by a beast in a castle. Despite her fears, she befriends workers in the castle. She learns to look beyond the beast's exterior, allowing her to recognize his kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides inside his beastly exterior.
Farmington High senior Ryan Huling will premiere on stage in his first theatrical production playing the Beast character. As a boy he admitted to loving the Disney movie and decided to be brave and audition.
"When I found out they were doing this, I was pretty excited and I wanted to go for it but I was a little hesitant because this is all new to me, but I thought I should just go for it," Huling said.
He is having a blast alongside the cast as he learns about theatre.
"It has been eye-opening and I feel I should have taken more risks in high school because of doing this and it has been fun to learn to sing with the other cast members and it is fun becoming someone you are not," Huling said.
Veteran performer and senior Ileri Okikiolu will play the lead character Belle. She has grown as a theatre student, having performed in each musical, play and one act the past few years.
Last year, Okikiolu was named a Triple Threat in the Top 25 youth in Minnesota for her singing, acting and dancing talents. Last year, she played Dorothy in "The Wiz" musical. This year she is energized to play Belle.
"I love getting to do something that I know pretty well and with this show I have an idea of who the character is and what it is like, and I get to bring myself and new elements to the role because it is great to do something that everyone knows really well," Okikiolu said.
Filling the stage with a powerful soprano voice, Okikiolu said: "I would love to go to school for theater, and I would love to do some regional theater and take a chance at big shows because I want to be able to perform for a really long time."
Director Maria Capecchi has wanted to direct "Beauty & the Beast" as a musical for a long time and is pleased with the cast talent. She encourages all to see the musical because this production is different than the new movie released and from the old, animated cartoon.
"There are all kinds of extra music and more dialog, and the Beast character is much more realistic and interesting, and the audience will love all the familiar songs," Capecchi said.
"I am super passionate about theatre and I love teaching kids," Capecchi said, adding how her husband builds sets at Children's Theatre productions.
"Our cast this year and a majority in the chorus are first time theatre kids, and so we are pretty excited to see all the kids who this is the first experience with musical theatre, and I love watching them experience theatre for the first time," she added.
Musical director Megan Dimich said the music is very special and each character will bring a broad appeal to entertain audiences of all ages.
"It has been really fun to teach the kids these songs they have grown up with, and they have learned them quickly because they already know the words, the rhythm and how it all fits together," Dimich said. "It is a story about finding your place in the world and it really has a deeper meaning and not even all of us had realized from the start that there is more to the beast than what they Disney movie portrays."
Technical director Sarah Stout added: "The really neat thing about this show is we were able to rent a lot of costumes and sets for the first time."
Even though students constructed a few set pieces, most whimsical costumes were rented.
"It is very fun because half of our cast is an enchanted object and the other half are townspeople," Stout said. The childlike, enchanted objects costumes that will entertain audiences are a teapot, clock, dresser, tea cup, candlestick and feather duster.
Many crew are freshman students who showed an interest in theater and a few were recruited from the robotics team, Stout said.
"The tech crew is a nice way to get involved in theatre and you do not need to rehearse as much, and it is a nice way to be involved if you get stage fright," Stout added.
Lead actress Okikiolu said: "People should come to the musical because it is a wonderful story about love and acceptance and not being afraid to be who you are, and it is about not really caring about what people think of you and to be true to yourself."
If you go:
What: The musical Disney's "Beauty & the Beast"
Who: Farmington High School students
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 10-11 and Nov. 17-18, and at 2 p.m. Nov. 12
Where: Boeckman Middle School auditorium, 800 Denmark Ave., Farmington
Cost: Preferred seating $12, adults $10 and students and senior citizens $6.