Playmakers invites all to production of ‘Beauty and the Beast Jr.’

Calling all Disney princesses.

Your presence is commanded at the Reilly Theatre to be Belle’s guest at Playmakers of Baton Rouge’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast Jr.”

“You can watch the animated feature, but there’s something about watching the live musical,” says Neena Kelfstrom. “It’s a chance for the audience to be surrounded by Belle’s world, to become a part of it.”

Kelfstrom is directing the company’s summer musical, which stages a mixed cast of 36 professional and children actors.

“This was the biggest audition we’ve ever had,” says Executive Director Todd Henry. “We had over 100 people turn out, and we had to stretch the auditions over two weekends.”

As in past Playmakers productions, youngsters will be able to sit on the edge of the stage, where they and the rest of the audience will be welcomed by the Beast’s staff singing the signature song, “Be Our Guest.”

All of the other movie favorites will also be included, but there also are some surprises along the way.

“I love Belle’s song, ‘Home,’” says Emily Mack, who plays Belle.“‘Home’ isn’t included in the animated film,” Kelfstrom says. “There are several songs in the musical that aren’t in the film.”

Playmakers has kept its young audience in mind by choosing to perform the “junior” or condensed version of the production.

“We have a lot of kids in the audience, and we didn’t want to make them sit for two and a-half hours,” Henry says. “This is just right for them.”

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” opened on April 18, 1994, in Broadway’s Palace Theatre with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Linda Woolverton wrote the book.

The musical was adapted from the 1991 film, which was based on French novelist Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 1756 version of the fairy tale of a cruel and selfish prince who is transformed into a hideous beast.

Enter the beautiful and adventurous Belle. The prince imprisons her in his castle and must earn her love before he can become human again.

“I love Belle, because she’s so different,” Mack says. “She’s independent, and I love that about her. And it’s great to watch her fall in love with the Beast. It sends the message that looks don’t matter.”

Mack is a 17-year-old junior at the Runnels School. She’ll split her school days between Runnels and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in her senior year.

Mack also faced a lot of competition for this role as LSU students, many of them enrolled in the university’s Musical Theatre Class, auditioned.

“Emily had a confidence about her,” says Anthony McMurray, artistic producing director. “She wasn’t overconfident, and she wasn’t arrogant. She was just easy in this role. She was comfortable, and that was what we wanted in Belle.”

CAST: Emily Mack, Belle; Ben Ross, Beast; Jorge Ponjuan, Gaston; Wil Thomas, Lefou; Spencer Smith, Maurice; Weston Twardowski, Lumiere; Carter Dean, Cogsworth; Emily Rodgriguez, Mrs. Potts; Cristin Ponjuan, Babette; Sarah Fruge, Madame de la Grande Bouche; Chase Bouchie, Monsieur D’arque; Sally girls -- Savannah Sanders, Jolie Gautreau, Parker Wilson; Chip -- Emma Grace Lambert and Bailey Cook; Ensemble -- Laurel Bourg, Vivian Brown, Logan Burge, Natalie Feduccia, Noel Gautreau, Thomas Griffith, Ellie Hader, Greyson Halliday, Anna Katherine Harrell, Jataiveus Jackson, Kate Kelfstrom, Jarrett LaBonne, Revathi Menon, Finn Miller, Brandon Persica, Madison Roy, Jordan Simoneaux, Landon Simpson, Jeanne Smith, Ashley Stevens, Hannah Tanib, Beau Willis.

ARTISTIC STAFF: Neena Kelfstrom, director; Lisa Smith, musical director; Elizabeth Cowan-Thomas, stage manager; Ginny Goodson, assistant stage manager; Kaley Daniel, assistant stage manager; Christin Rills, choreographer; Matthew Duvall, set designer; Adam Waguespack, light designer; DEvon Lamond, sound design; Kamrin Kennedy, sound design; Abbey Vitrano, costume designer; Todd Henry, executive director; Anthony McMurray, producing artistic director; Danielle Adams, education and touring director. The Jefferson Performing Arts Society also provided costumes for this production.