A tale as old as time
WORTHINGTON -- Fairy tale story. Lavish sets and costumes. A talented cast.
Those components will all come together for a first-ever summer community musical theater presentation at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center in Worthington, made possible by the installation of air conditioning during a recent major renovation of the theater facility.
"Beauty and the Beast," under the direction of Jason Olson with assistance from choreographer Kay Prunty and vocal coach Kerri Johnson, will be presented Aug. 5-7 and 12-14 on the Memorial Auditorium stage. The show has been a monumental undertaking for the large cast and crew, who have various levels of theatrical experience.
In the title roles are Melissa Remme as Belle, the "Beauty"; Eric Parrish as the "Beast"; and in a smaller part, Thai Hua as the prince -- the alter ego of the Beast.
Some people may recognize Melissa Remme as the representative who helps them with their insurance needs in Jessica Noble's State Farm agency office in Worthington. Others may know her as the granddaughter of local retired businessman John Remme or as the instructor who leads them through their yoga poses two times a week.
But they might not know that Melissa has a theatrical background that goes back to her childhood in Owatonna.
"Oh my goodness, I think the first time I ever sang in front of an audience I was in the third grade," said Melissa, the daughter of Mike Remme, now residing in Texas, and Dawn Randall, Eau Claire, Wis. "But on my mom's side of the family, they are all musicians -- everybody sang or played something, so it's in my blood, so to speak. From the time I could read and write, I was always writing plays, getting all the neighborhood kids involved. We did circuses, plays, always trying to get the neighbors to come and watch all our little shows. It's something I've been doing my whole life in some form."
Among her previous roles are Clara in "Heidi," Kim in "Bye Bye Birdie" and the Tinwoman in the "Wizard of Oz."
Normally quite "shy and reserved," the performer inside surfaces whenever Melissa hits the stage.
"I don't like attention, don't like the spotlight," she said, "but that performing piece comes out in front of people or on stage."
When the audition notices were posted for "Beauty and the Beast," Melissa was encouraged by her mother and boss to try out, and she had her heart set on Belle from the beginning.
"'Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid" were my favorite Disney movies when I was a little girl," she admitted. "It was a part I had always really loved and would love to play."
The elaborate costumes and sets, designed and fabricated by Judie Johnson, help Melissa live out her childhood fantasy and transform her into Belle.
"It's so fun," said Melissa. "My outfits actually look exactly like hers do in the movie. There's the little blue dress to open and the big golden ballgown. They're pretty true to the movie. Judie has just done an amazing job."
In the play, Melissa tackles extensive singing, but she takes all the numbers in stride, and also has a lot of dialogue, although the memorization, she says, comes quite easily.
"We're learning how to waltz," she noted. "That's been interesting."
The most challenging part of being involved in the production is the time commitment. Between her job, yoga classes and almost daily rehearsals, Melissa has to squeeze in time with her real-life beau of four years, Adam Bohrer, and the other love of her life, their golden retriever, Daisy.
Although she has lived in Worthington for several years now, Melissa is excited to have found new friends among the cast and crew of "Beauty and the Beast."
"There are just so many talented people involved, and that has actually been fun to find that niche of musicians and actors and actresses -- people who enjoy the same things. That was kind of something I had hoped to find here when I moved here, and I just didn't know where to look, didn't know who was involved.
"Also, I have really enjoyed spending time with the young girls who are involved with the play," added Melissa. "They are so sweet. They are always giving me hugs and hanging out with me at rehearsal, and I absolutely love that."
Eric Parrish once understudied for the role of the Beast, but that was five years ago. A late addition to the cast, Parrish said his learning curve on the play is a bit different than the rest of cast's.
"They've all had two months to learn their parts -- I have 10 days," he stated. "But the rest of the cast had been really great about helping me. And they've been really patient."
Parrish, a bass, is the music/theater instructor at the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College, and has a master's degree in opera performance. He is very familiar with the music from "Beauty and the Beast" because of his former understudy role and his appreciation for the show itself.
Like Remme, "Beauty and the Beast" is one of Parrish's favorite Disney movies.
"This show -- most of the Disney movies -- have so much to say," he said. "So many messages, for any age."
There a have been a couple of lyric updates since he understudied the role, but it's the lines he is working hard to memorize.
"It's all about getting it in my head fast," he admitted. "But this is a role I really wanted to do. I rearranged my whole vacation so I could fill the part."
He came home around 3 p.m. this past Sunday, and by 4 p.m. was being fitted into a beast costume.
"It's got a big head piece, which is basically three different pieces, and the claws are pretty intense," he explained.
Given his occupation, Parrish is obviously a big supporter of live theater. He said he is happy that the community has come together to stage performances at Memorial Auditorium.
"I think it's just great they're doing this," he stated. "I'm happy to be involved."
Without the magic of Disney special effects, staging a musical that climaxes with a physical transformation for one of the main characters can be a challenge. Instead of stripping off Parrish's makeup so the Beast can become the Prince, a third player was enlisted.
"I'm barely in the musical," stressed Thai Hua. "I show up at the beginning and take all the credit at the end."
Hua moved to Worthington when he was just 10 months old and is a 2005 graduate of Worthington High School.
"I was a bona fide jock -- captain of the football team, captain of the wrestling team," he said. "Not really in the musical scene, because back then you either did one or the other."
Local dance teacher Prunty convinced Hua to first take the stage as a backup dancer, and he progressed into bigger roles, including the lead in an area production of "Footloose." When the time came to cast the roles in "Beauty and the Beast," Thai wasn't sure if he'd be able to commit time to the production, so the smaller Prince role was a perfect fit.
"I'm actually the director for a non-profit organization, All Day Fore Africa," he said. "I also have three kids that I take care of, two nephews and a niece, and that keeps me busy."
Thai's "kids" are also involved in the play, so even though his role is small, he's spent a lot of time backstage during rehearsals.
"I told them I was going to show up for the prologue, go home and watch a movie and come back for the end of the musical," Thai related.
"But it's been a blast. The cast has been awesome, really fun to work with. I don't know if we could have had a better cast."
Performances of "Beauty and the Beast" will be 7 p.m. Aug. 5, 6, 12 and 13 and 2 p.m. Aug. 7 and 14. Reserved seating tickets are available through the auditorium ticket office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday; phone 376-9101. The production is made possible in part through a grant from Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council.