MANSFIELD — Neither Beauty nor the Beast have previously graced the stage of the Mansfield Playhouse.
That changes Friday night when Hillsdale High School junior Hailey Stow and Madison High School senior Caden Stewart take the lead roles in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast Jr.”
It’s the Playhouse debut for the duo, but both have musical theater experience in their own high schools.
And both are excited to greet the Mansfield audience with their castmates.
“I just like the experience of it all and the people are amazing. I have never done this before and it’s something I want to do my entire life. I get to be a Disney princess!” said Stow, a 16-year-old who hopes to pursue a career on Broadway one day.
Like Stow, the 17-year-old Stewart has never even seen a show at the community theater, now in its 55th year on East Third Street.
“This is the first time I have ever hard about it and the first time I have been here.
“This place is fantastic, especially for how old it is and the remodeling they have done with it … and the show is great. Great cast. Doug is a great director and the costuming is great,” Stewart said.
The two lead a cast of almost three dozen area youth in the junior version of the classic story that was nominated for nine Tony Awards during its 13-year run on Broadway and became an Academy Award-winning motion picture.
A story of tolerance and transformation, Beauty and the Beast Jr. features some of the most popular songs ever written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, along with new songs by Menken and Tim Rice.
The story focuses on Belle, an adventurous young girl, and the Beast, her hideous captor who is actually a young prince trapped under a spell.
In order to break the spell, the Beast must learn to love another and earn her love in return – before time runs out.
Stow said she has loved theater since junior high school and decided to audition for the Playhouse show at the urging of her school superintendent.
“I ended up getting in and it’s just in the direction I want to go with the career path I want,” she said.
Playhouse Artistic Director Doug Wertz said he has been impressed with Stow, Stewart and the entire cast.
“Hailey was my first choice for Belle. She’s got a lovely voice and she has great character and stage presence and she just really fit the role,” he said.
Laughing, Stow said Wertz did challenge her.
“Doug told me I didn’t walk femininely enough. Apparently I take really big, fast steps. I had to learn how to walk more femininely. And apparently I hunched forward a lot. He told me not to use my shoulders as much. It was a big issue for me, but I got over it,” she said.
The five-show run will end a long season for Wertz and the Playhouse, going all the way back to “A Christmas Story” in July 2021.
“I think this will be a fantastic one to end on. I am blown away by these kids. They have been great to work with.
“I have a lot of fun with kids’ shows anyway, but these folks have been so respectful and willing to learn and grow. I just think the audience is going to be blown away with their talents,” Wertz said.
Stewart said his friend, Liam Paxton, convinced him to audition. Paxton joins him in the show in the role of Cogsworth. The musical director of the show is Craig Green, the Madison High school choir director.
But the music hasn’t been Stewart’s biggest hurdle to overcome.
“The most challenging thing has been the number of lines. This is the biggest role I have had,” he said.
One of the musical’s unsung heroes is Mrs. Potts, a role perhaps best voiced by Angela Lansbury in the movie. Filling the role at the Playhouse is Madison senior Paityn Hall, 17, who is back for her third show at the theater.
Hall, who takes college classes at North Central State College and wants to be a psychiatrist, said it’s been great to get to meet a lot of new people.
“There are a lot of newcomers in this show,” she said. “(Stewart) is from my high school, so that’s super cool.”
Hall also appreciates the chance to play Mrs. Potts.
“Mrs. Potts has been so much fun. I have been getting to know my son, Chip, and it’s fun taking on a motherly role and being a little perky. I’ve loved it so much,” she said.
“This is me and my mom’s favorite movie.”
Alayna Ross is the show’s choreographer, a first-time role for her at the Playhouse. In January, she performed on stage in “Play On!”
“We found out that she was a dancer and a choreographer. So we thought give her a shot. She’s been a real gem. And the kids love her,” Wertz said.
Lady with cane — Brooklyn Abbruzzeso
Lady Aristo — Morgan Beasly
Ensemble/wolf — Brandi Bowles
Shepherd boy — Adon Burton
Lumiere — Noah Burton
Madame — Makaila Davis
Chip — Derrick Foster
Candle seller — Sophia Fraley
Narrator 2 — Elina Gilland
Les Fille 4 — Emalie Green
Mrs. Pots — Paityn Hall
Sausage girl — Emma Hamm
Narrator 1/baker — Payne Schwartz
Bookseller — Ian Hergatt
Lady w/baby — Emma Hutchison-Deehr
Maurice — Brett Lucas
Les Fille 2 — Addyson Lundquist
Les Fille 1 — Lillie Mowry
Fishmonger — Anthony Parker
Cogsworth — Liam Paxton
Gaston — Gage Workman
Hatseller — Weston Rehberg
Milkmaid/narrator 4 — Saneyah Saavedra
Ensemble/wolf — Caroline Secrist
D’arque/wolf — Malaki Stanfield
Ensemble/wolf — Caroline Stefaniuk
Lefou — Graycen Stevens
Prince/Beast — Caden Stewart
Belle — Hailey Stow
Butcher — Leia Walker
Narrator 3/egg seller — Karlie Wilson
Babbette — Taylor Beasly
Ensemble — Drake Ramey
Show Dates: June 17, 18, 24, 25 at 7 p.m.; June 26 at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: Tickets and reservations, call 419-522-2883. Box office hours are Wednesday through Friday from 1 to 6 p.m. and one hour prior to all performances. Purchase tickets online at https://www.tix.com/ticket-sales/Playhouse/3818
The Life section is supported by Brethren Care Village in Ashland.