Cherry Hill East Theatre invites community to ‘be their guest’ at spring musical, Beauty and the Beast

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Many students who participate in Cherry Hill High School East’s spring musical saw the musical “Beauty and the Beast” on stage as children. Some of them saw it performed at Cherry Hill East nine years ago, others had seen the show elsewhere, and a few others performed in the show for other theaters. All of the students’ eyes light up as they talk excitedly about their favorite characters, scenes and musical numbers from the show.

On Friday, the cast will get to actually play their favorite characters in front of a live audience as Cherry Hill East Theatre premieres “Beauty and the Beast” as its spring musical on Feb. 26. Two casts will perform the shows, with the red cast taking the stage on Feb. 26 and 28 and March 5. The white cast will perform Feb. 27 and March 4 and 6.

Director Tom Weaver said the theater department wanted to do a kid-friendly spring musical and felt “Beauty and the Beast” would capture the attention of a large audience.

“There was some feedback to do something fun and light,” Weaver said. “I just felt like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ would be fun. “We just did ‘The Tempest’ (in the fall) which was great, but it was tense.”

For the cast, the opportunity to perform as their favorite Disney characters was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I wanted to be in it for the longest time,” said senior Katie Aylesworth, playing Belle in the white cast. “It’s such a fun show.”

Aylesworth said Belle was always one of her favorite Disney princesses as a child because she loved to read. For senior Samantha Mautner, playing Belle in the red cast, she is excited for the character brunch scheduled for Saturday, March 5. At the brunch, the cast will do a meet and greet as their character with guests.

“I’m really excited to just meet them all,” Mautner said. “I think it’s cool that I get to play a character that so many little girls look up to.”

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For members of the senior class, this is the second time they are a performing a Disney show at Cherry Hill East. The theater department performed “Peter Pan” as its spring musical in 2013.

“A lot of the seniors have memories of doing Peter Pan freshman year,” said senior Eric Zavadsky, playing LeFou in the red cast. “So once we knew it was Disney, we knew it was going to be a very involved experience.”

Many of the cast members said there is a little bit of pressure going into the show, especially performing what is expected to be an audience with a lot of kids.

“A challenge for all of us that this show is a kids show,” said junior Ezra Nugiel, playing Cogsworth in the red cast. “The majority of the audience is going to be children. We have to make sure the kids are going to like it because kids don’t lie if they don’t think something’s funny. They won’t laugh.”

“Half of them know the movie,” Aylesworth said. “If they see something and say ‘That’s not Belle’ or ‘That’s not Gaston,’ they won’t be afraid to tell you if something’s wrong.”

The biggest challenge so far has been choreographing the show’s elaborate dance numbers. Weaver credited assistant director and choreographer Sandi Makofsky with guiding the cast through those scenes during rehearsal.

Makofsky said trying to replicate the style of Disney is a big focus during rehearsal.

“There’s a responsibility to be a certain way,” Makofsky said. “You have to be bigger than life, but you also have to be realistic.”

A lot of time and energy is put into the dance numbers. Makofsky puts a lot of time in analyzing each dance number for every cast member.

“When we’re doing a number, we’ll break it down,” she said. “I tell them what they’re doing and we look at it later on. We also have two casts, which makes it a challenge.”

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Some of the cast members have faced challenges with their characters as well. Senior Avi Natan, playing the Beast for both casts, described his character as complex, especially early in the show when his character is an animal.

“One of the things I’m working on is having animalistic qualities where it’s not just walking straight,” Natan said. “I have to jump around a little bit more.”

Junior Cedric Middleton, playing Gaston in the red cast, said his character is different than previous roles he’s played.

“I’ve never been in a really comedic role before,” Middleton said. “Compared to ‘The Tempest’ where I’m an angry slave, now I’m a funny muscle head. It’s very interesting to switch it like that.”

Junior Jacob Ropka, playing Lumiere in the red cast, has a challenge no other actor in his cast has.

“In rehearsals, I have to hold my arm up in a perfect, 90-degree angle,” Ropka said of playing the candlestick. “I do it for every scene I’m in, which is five minutes.”

The choice of “Beauty and the Beast” has generated a lot of interest in the Cherry Hill East community. The cast said many students who don’t normally attend shows are planning to see this year’s musical.

“There were people who you would never see in the theater department talking about auditioning,” Natan said. “Like all of the girls, they all wanted to be Belle because that was their idol as a child.”

“It’s exciting to know we’ll have a full house and we’ll draw from a large pool of people,” said junior Jared Camacho, playing LeFou in the red cast.

Performances for “Beauty and the Beast” will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 and March 4, and 2 p.m. for all other shows. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students. To purchase tickets, call the Cherry Hill East Theatre box office at (856) 424–2222 ext. 2019. The box office is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and an hour prior to each show.

Brunch with Belle will take place on March 5 at noon prior to the show. Tickets for the brunch are $23.50 for adults and $21.50 for kids and includes tickets to the 2 p.m. show. Tickets can be purchased at http://chetb.weebly.com/store/c3/Events.html. Guests must RSVP for the brunch by Feb. 26. Call Val Aylesworth at (856) 295–1795 or email events.cheboosters@hotmail.com with any questions.