The current production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast by Children's Theatre of Annapolis follows the New Year's tradition of looking back and forward.
This will be CTA's second-to-last show at Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center and the last featuring older children, ages 12 to 18.
This year, said CTA spokeswoman Cathy Hollerbach, "we're looking forward to auditioning kids for our first show in our very own theater in September."
The long-held dream of Children's Theatre folks to have a theater will be realized with the completion in the spring of the company's new theater at Bay Head Park in Arnold. The theater is now under a roof.
"It's hard to believe how beautiful a metal building can be and to realize in our 48th season we'll have our own building where we'll stage our shows," CTA President Martha Gardner said.
At a Wednesday rehearsal, Gardner said, "To get here, we've had help from the state, and from the county, and from the arts council and many generous people."
A key to the group's success is the strong support hard-working parents. Vice President Bill Smith, a parent, a long-term supporter and an architect, has worked tirelessly to make the building a reality, contributing professional architectural skills.
Smith also brings his considerable artistic talents to the stage in the set design of Beauty and the Beast (as was apparent at Wednesday's rehearsal) in the professional quality of two castle sets. In constructing the sets, Smith had help from Randy Gardner and a crew of parents.
The production features 38 young people, one of the largest Children's Theatre casts.
"There were so many talented kids, and director Joe Thompson wanted to use as many of them as possible [after] the most competitive auditions in memory," Hollerbach said.
Three cast members are middle school students: Austin Heemstra, a seventh-grader at Rockbridge Academy; Sam Kobren, an eighth-grader at Lime Kiln Middle; and Carly Snyder, who is in the seventh grade at Severna Park Middle. The rest are high school students.
Beauty and the Beast, with music by Alan Mencken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, is based on a 1991 Disney film that became a musical, debuting on Broadway in 1994.
The sixth-longest running show in Broadway history, Beauty and the Beast has played in 13 countries and has had two United States and Canadian tours.
The show's score includes the touching and melodic title song and the lively "Be Our Guest," among other upbeat numbers.
The story tells of a prince turned into a beast after a spell is cast on him by an enchantress because he was unable to feel love.
Near the prince's castle, the lovely Belle has attracted admirers, including the town hero, Gaston, but she wants to be appreciated for more than her beauty. Her father, Maurice, is an inventor who becomes lost in the woods and winds up in the Beast's mysterious castle, locked in a dungeon for trespassing.
Searching for her father, Belle winds up in the castle and makes a deal with the Beast that she will remain with him if he sets her father free. The Beast does so, and Belle finds her way around the castle, becoming acquainted with the servants before finding that the Beast is not so loathsome.
In the CTA production, Belle is played by Lindsay Espinosa, a senior at Broadneck High, and the Beast is played by R.J. Pavel, a junior at Archbishop Spalding High.
At rehearsal, it was hard to believe that relative newcomer Dorian Jackson of Broadneck High School, who plays Gaston, could be so skilled in performing fight choreography.
Malarie Novotny of Arundel High School plays Mrs. Potts with what was described as "a maternal quality that belies her 17-year age." Miguel Mattia-Uribe of Old Mill High School plays LeFou. The servant Lumiere is played by Severna Park High School senior Kyhle VanZandt, and he had no trouble lighting up the stage at rehearsal. Baltimore School for the Arts sophomore Scott AuCoin plays Cogsworth.
Musical direction is by Eileen Eaton, and choreography is by Jason Kimmel.
The show opened Friday at Pascal Center for the Performing Arts. Performances continue at 2 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Jan. 13.
Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for children ages 12 and younger and adults ages 55 and older. 410-757-2281 or boxoffice@childrenstheatreof annapolis.org.