WLT for Kids will bring classics alive on stage

Posted: June 18, 2013

The Winchester Star

“Cinderella” rehearsals continue at Winchester Little Theatre. The production opens Saturday as part of WLT for Kids. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Jara Barrett (from left), Nathalie Bly and Biz O'Keeffe rehearse a scene from “Cinderella.”
Raiel Enriquez (from left), Tyler Hamilton, Claire Sumner, Hannah Duley and Matt Merline paint prop pumpkins for “Cinderella” at the Winchester Little Theatre. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

Winchester — WLT for Kids has a fairy-tale summer planned for its 10th season.

The theater program for students ages 11 to 18 will once again offer two summer shows when it stages “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast Jr.,” said Sara Gomez, program founder and director of the second show.

“We didn’t purposely put two princesses back to back, it just worked out that way,” said Gomez of Stephens City.

“Cinderella” will run Saturday to June 29 and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” will take the stage July 20-27 at the Winchester Little Theatre, 315 W. Boscawen St.

An opening reception for audience members will follow the opening nights of both shows, she said.

For the 47 children and teenagers that make up the two casts, it is a demanding summer ahead, she said. In addition to putting together full productions in a matter of weeks, the students have two performances daily.

“By the end of the run, these kids are amazingly professional,” she said.

Director Victoria Ryles is starting off the summer with 22 cast members bringing to life the classic story of “Cinderella.”

In playwright Craig W. Stump’s version of the play, the fairytale proceeds as normal with the tale of the beautiful Ella, who has been forced into domestic servitude by her jealous stepmother and ugly stepsisters after her father dies, Ryles said.

When the King of the land decides the Prince needs to marry and throws a ball, Cinderella’s plight transforms into a “beautiful story of dreams coming true,” Ryles said.

While audience members will cheer for the happy couple, they will also enjoy getting to meet some of the other amusing characters that populate the story, including talking mice, a cat, a dog, and a forgetful Fairy Godmother, she said.

Alexa Lindquist, 12, of Winchester plays Beatrice, one of the mice. Beatrice injects humor into the play to take away from some of the drama, said Alexa, the daughter of Amanda Lindquist.

“She brings a little bit of happiness and fun when it gets sad,” said Alexa, who also plays a young Priscilla (one of the stepsisters) and a townsperson.

Stump’s version has two “hillbilly narrators” who add humor and help transition between some of the play’s 25 scenes.

“It is as if the narrators have come to see the show but they can’t control themselves and talk about what is happening,” said Ryles of Middletown.

Biz O’Keeffe, 15, of Winchester plays Penelope, one of the stepsisters. The girl is slow on the uptake and likes to make Cinderella’s life miserable, said Biz, the daughter of Valerie and Charles O’Keeffe.

“It is a bit of a challenge because she is not like me,” said Biz, who played Snow White in last summer’s WLT for Kids. “I am used to playing a sweet, innocent character, and Penelope is not that at all.”

While “Cinderella” counts down to its first performance next week, “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” will just be gearing up with music and dancing rehearsals starting Monday offsite, Gomez said.

The musical production will be a shortened version of the Broadway musical by Alan Menken, but will still have many of the songs and a scaled down version of the pageantry and costumes, she said.

Many of the audience members’ favorite characters will be on hand to sing and dance, including Belle, the Beast, Cogsworth, and Lumiere. While creating the costumes for many of the characters, costume designer Roxie Orndorff has the challenge of capturing their essence while working with small actors and limited stage room, Gomez said.

Gomez also has the task of working in a little stage magic as the curse is broken and several of the characters have to transform into their original form.

This summer’s shows were very competitive with 80 youth auditioning for roles, Gomez said. She cast 25 in the musical, stretching the roles as far as they would go.

The effort to get more actors into the shows is about having as many children as possible experience what WLT for Kids is about, Ryles said. “It is not just about learning new acting skills. The students are involved in all aspects of the production, including set construction, painting, and helping with costumes. It is also about building relationships.”

The casting for the shows usually works out to about half new participants and the other half returning, she said.

As the youth become comfortable with their roles, their fellow actors, and the theater experience, it is wonderful to watch their confidence bloom, Ryles said. “They all want to be here and they are full of enthusiasm and excitement.”

Information

“Cinderella” will run Saturday to June 29, and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” will take the stage July 20-27 at the Winchester Little Theatre, 315 W. Boscawen St., Winchester. Each show has a matinee and evening performance each day. There are no Monday shows. Tickets to both are $10. For a complete schedule or to purchase tickets, contact 540-662-3331 from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday or boxoffice@wltonline.org or visit wltonline.org.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com