Nelya McDowell as Belle and Ethan Houlbrook as the Beast gear up for the Center Stage Performing Arts Academy’s Lights of Broadway performance of Beauty and the Beast at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre May 11 and 12. (Mori Images)

Cast can’t wait for you to be their guest

Lights of Broadway presents Beauty and the Beast May 11-12 at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre

For more than eight months, they’ve listened to the same song on repeat.

Each time it plays, they get a little bit closer to the final, polished product. And they can’t wait to share their efforts.

Center Stage Performing Arts Academy’s Lights of Broadway theatre troupe presents Beauty and the Beast at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre May 11-12.

But, before they get there, the cast of 130 actors and actresses aged five-to-60-something will keep up their efforts on the seven-minute epic Be Our Guest.

“They’ve been working on Be Our Guest since September,” said director Charity Van Gameren, laughing that they’ve now heard the song hundreds of times.

Based on the Broadway version of the performance, which inspired the 2017 film of the same name, Van Gameren said the live rendition truly affords the story the opportunity to shine.

“I love the story of Belle and the Beast. The music is beautiful and genius,” Van Gameren said. “I think the score is brilliant. It’s one of my favourites.”

With the theatrical version, Van Gameren said the characters develop further and the story becomes a more emotional and three-dimensional work of art.

“We just kind of feel the show and feel what’s happening,” said Ethan Houlbrook, a self-proclaimed drama queen who embodies the Beast. “It’s really something special.”

Houlbrook’s nemesis, Gaston, is brought to life by 15-year theatre star Steve Braun.

“When I decided on Beauty and the Beast, I just knew he was the perfect guy for Gaston,” Van Gameren said of Braun.

And Braun was happy to oblige.

“I always wanted to be the villain, egotistical and chauvinistic,” Braun laughed.

Caught between the two polar-opposites is Belle, portrayed by Nelya McDowell who has performed with Van Gameren for seven years.

“Belle is not your typical princess,” Van Gameren said. “I feel like she’s a really good role model for girls.”

Belle has no interest in Gaston, for she can see beyond his visage. And, in a similar fashion, she sees beyond the facade the Beast is buried under and falls in love with him.

“Belle knows how important character is,” Van Gameren said. “As the story proceeds, the Beast becomes much more beautiful.”

“I become the Beast, almost,” Braun adds.

Further differentiating themselves from the play’s movie counterpart, Lights of Broadway talent, while they have seen the film, have been avoiding it in recent months to avoid copying what happened on the silver screen.

“Anyone can go home and watch a movie,” said Amy Smith, a six-year Lights of Broadway veteran who plays Lumière.” It’s a unique experience on stage.”

“I feel like it’s something you can look back on and be proud of,” McDowell added.

Now in its 17th year, Center Stage Performing Arts Academy’s Lights of Broadway program — under the guidance of director Van Gameren, choreographer Cherise McInnis and acting coach and assistant director Sarah Mori Jones — hopes to instill just that in its students. One of such initiatives is introducing children to the stage at a young age.

Related: Making a splash at the Performing Arts Centre

In Beauty and the Beast, the young ones will don their dinnerware and silverware costumes and join the principals on stage.

“We like to introduce kids into the show. It’s such a great experience for ids to be in a big Broadway show,” Van Gameren said.

Houlbrook said it’s an important initiative.

“It helps us be on the same level as them. It makes it an attainable goal,” he said.

McDowell agreed.

“It’s important to have little kids so they have someone to look up to,” she said.

And, after about 150 hours of acting preparation behind each production, the cast said Lights of Broadway becomes a true community.

“When you work together towards a single goal, it feels as though you’re a part of something,” Smith said.

Van Gameren said it’s a family of which she is proud.

“It’s a massive undertaking. In the end, the pay off for them is what it’s all about,” Van Gameren said.

“To be part of a community like this, we see the best and worst of each other. We really do become a family,” Houlbrook added. “It’s definitely more than just a show to us.”

Lights of Broadway presents Beauty and the Beast at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre May 11 at 7 p.m. and May 12 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $32 adult or $29 senior and student and are available through the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469,

Parker Crook | Reporter


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