Conway High School to perform Beauty and the Beast

By Tammy Keith Originally Published April 11, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 10, 2013 at 8:40 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Sam Huskey, right, directs Conway High School students in a song from their upcoming stage musical, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which is similar to the movie. Band director Tim Cunningham will lead the orchestra.

A lead actor in Conway High School’s upcoming production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast said the director is in the “experimental vein” with this show.

He meant it in a good way.

From prosthetic makeup to special effects, it will have “cool” features, said Blake Farris, 18, who plays Gaston.

Director A.J. Spiridigliozzi, drama teacher at Conway Junior High School, wanted this year’s musical to be a beloved story, a performance all ages could enjoy.

He said Beauty and the Beast fits the bill.

“I wanted to do something that could appeal to everyone from kindergarten and up, even lower than that — something the whole family could come to,” Spiridigliozzi said.

“It’s a show everyone knows. Everyone has a connection with it,” he said.

The fact that it’s so well-known puts the pressure on, too.

“There’s a huge expectation that everything has to be grandiose. We have a decent budget — we’re trying to be as big as we possibly can with the budget,” he said.

Approximately 100 students are

involved in the production, from actors to stagehands.

Spiridigliozzi said the stage production differs slightly from the movie, “but it still has that Disney feel.”

Beauty and the Beast will be performed at 7 p.m. April 25-27 and at 1 p.m. April 27 in the James H. Clark Auditorium at the high school.

Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students.

Spiridigliozzi said Huskey, the vocal director, mentioned doing the show years ago.

“The first year we started, he said, “Let’s do Beauty and the Beast,” and I thought, “Let’s not.”

“We’d just started. I didn’t know what our budget was; it was just overwhelming,” he said.

This year, the timing seemed right, he said.

“I said, ‘You know what; we definitely have the talent.’”

That talent includes 16-year-old junior Jessica Taylor, who performs as Belle; and Farris and fellow senior Steven McConkie as the Beast.

“Actingwise, everyone is really trying and coming along — people like Blake, who had never done a show before,” Spiridigliozzi said. “He had been the head of our stage crew and decided he wanted to be in it and blew us all away.”

Farris said he originally wanted the role of the Beast.

McConkie said he auditioned hoping to be Gaston.

Spiridigliozzi reversed the roles.

“I was wanting the Beast, but now looking back, I’m so happy I got what I got,” Farris said. “I honestly do feel like this is a better fit for me, and it’s such a fun role to play.”

“[As Gaston], I act like I’m some sort of chauvinist, a womanizer,” he said.

“The Beast is introverted, sad. That was a little harder for me to tap into,” Farris said.

Gaston is a big, brutish guy who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.

Although Farris is no weakling, he’ll get a little help for the performances.

“We recently got a muscle suit from a community theater, and they’re altering it because the chest is a little bit too much,” he said.

He’s also graduating in May with highest honors, so no typecasting there.

Spiridigliozzi said Farris took singing lessons just for this performance.

“That shows a lot about his character,” Spiridigliozzi said.

Farris said he didn’t even know he had a talent for singing until about three months ago.

He said his mother, Sue Farris, can sing and participated in high school and college choirs.

“I’d been practicing some of the beast songs, actually, and when my mom came home, I said, ‘Tell me if this is good; be honest,’” he said.

“She started crying.”

He said he performs a solo called “Me,” and he sings parts of other songs.

“There are some really fun lines,” he said. He has a favorite: “In one of the songs, ‘We shall be the perfect pair, rather like my thighs,’” Farris said.

The 6-foot-3-inch McConkie said he wears football pads to fill out his thin frame to become the beast.

“I’m not the biggest guy,” he said.

To further transform himself, he will wear a prosthetic on part of his face.

He had to sit perfectly still in a chair while a cast was made of his face.

“The first question the guy asked was, “Are you claustrophobic?’ Thankfully, I’m not,” McConkie said. He said his face was covered with a green substance, similar to what dentists use to make impressions of teeth. He had air holes to breathe.

“I had to keep my mouth closed the whole time,” he said.

“They put a little ball cap on me so it wouldn’t get in my hair — and poured that plastic stuff all over my face. I fell asleep for 45 minutes — it was actually pretty relaxing,” McConkie said.

James Moix, 45, of Conway is the artist behind the creation.

A former member of the Conway High School Drama Department, he made what he called the “prosthetic makeup.”

“It’s going to be film quality,” Moix said.

He said the end result will be two latex pieces, one T-shaped that fits the student’s nose and brow; the other for his chin includes tusks.

“I’ll be doing his horns, as well,” Moix said.

McConkie said he’s having “a blast” in the production, although it is a lot of work.

“I really think it’s going to be outstanding; everybody is doing fantastic. The guy that’s playing Gaston — Blake, Belle, Lumiere … Mrs. Potts, everyone has a great voice, great acting skills,” McConkie said.

Taylor plays the female lead.

She said the part of Belle is different from the other roles she’s had in school musicals.

She played Dorothy in The Wiz in ninth grade and Motormouth Mabel in Hairspray last year.

“I have to keep the mindset that Belle is older than when I played Dorothy in The Wiz,” Taylor said. “She has a more grown-up feel to her.”

Taylor said she’d only seen bits and pieces of the movie Beauty and the Beast before she decided to audition.

“I watched it like weeks, back to back, getting familiar with the characters, her attitude and what not,” Taylor said.

“It’s fun reading through lines with all the other cast members, Lumiere and Cogsworth,” she said.

She has three solos, she said, and sings on other numbers.

Taylor said she still gets nervous, no matter how many times she has done a show.

“You can never be too perfect; you still have to rehearse and practice,” she said. “Anything can still go wrong — I still miss a line or two, or come in late.”

Spiridigliozzi said no matter how much he pushes the students, they respond.

“It’s phenomenal the talent we have,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed to be around these kids.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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