THE Georgetown International Academy (GIA) has firmly established a theatrical tradition that is needed and appreciated in the theatre fraternity of Guyana. It is one that bridges the educational goals the school has for its students, while also providing wholesome musical and theatrical entertainment of a sort that would not appear on the Guyanese stage were it not for the commitment that GIA has towards the arts and its students. Past productions include the original musicals, “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Lion King Jr.,” “Aladdin,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Shrek Jr.” This year, a production of “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” will be staged on March 30th at the National Cultural Centre.
The musical gives us a story that is familiar to all, and even if someone has never seen any of the several film adaptations, it is still very likely that such an individual would have heard about the story, whether it’s through a cultural source (as many variations of a beast being transformed into a human upon finding true love exists in almost all societies), or through some media other than film, as “Beauty and the Beast” is too iconic, being a “tale as old as time,” and occupying such an important place in modern pop culture that it is simply impossible to not have experienced at least some facet of this story before even happening upon the musical.
Almost everyone knows the beautiful opening music, the castle in the woods, the angry enchantress who curses the handsome prince to become a monster, all of the castle servants who are transformed with him, and Belle, the brave, bookish girl who takes her father’s place in the Beast’s dungeon and goes on to win his heart.
As always, GIA has recruited a team of faculty members to guide the student-cast as they work towards the crafting and honing of a musical experience that aims to offer something that is familiar, while also representing something fresh and rare for the theatre-going populace of the country. The students of the school work in various roles in the production, doing everything from acting, singing, and dancing, to stage managing, designing, and construction. It is a wild and varied, yet thoroughly enjoyable experience that allows students to engage in the arts while also building on several education tenets related to some of the courses they take in school, such as Drama, Music, Literature, and Art.
The play is led by 11th grader, Sofia Pinol who will be taking on her first leading role by playing Belle, the titular beauty who, with her kindness and intelligence, manages to show the Beast what it means to experience love. Darren Hinds, also an 11th grader and one of the school’s newest students will be appearing alongside her as the Beast who is the persona given to a prince after being cursed by an enchantress.
Four 9th graders, Alexander Strand, Faraud Mohamed, Julia Regina, and Sakinah Khan play the important roles of the various castle servants, Lumiere (candlestick), Cogsworth (clock), Mrs. Potts (teapot), and Babette (feather duster), respectively. 10th-grade student, Naomi Hill appears as the operatic wardrobe, Madame De La Grande Bouche, and the tiny teacup named Chip will be relayed to us by two extremely charming and talented first graders, Hanaan and Simrah McDoom. Rounding out the main cast is 12th-grade student, Rachel Mekdeci (last year’s Fiona in “Shrek Jr.”) who plays the villainous Gaston in a gender-swapped performance, and Eros Jackson (last year’s Shrek in “Shrek Jr.”) as Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou. Additionally, the ensemble consisting of villagers, castle servants, narrators, and other minor roles are played by students from 1st grade all the way to 12th grade, and two final year students, Samara Oswald and Ayushi Baidya, are currently working as the play’s stage managers.
Aside from daily rehearsals, the team has been preparing other aspects of the performance besides the acting, singing and dancing elements. Students have designed and are helping to paint and construct some of the set and prop pieces. These include everything from the walls of the castle to the central, symbolic rose that has come to stand as one of the story’s signature elements.
The ways in which the entire student body is actively involved in making this play happened, as they have been doing since the first musical was staged several years ago, is undoubtedly part of what GIA hopes to achieve by staging these plays in the first place. Student-led initiatives are important in schools and an event of such pomp and grandeur definitely requires several leaders to make it happen, and quite a number of them must come from the student population.
“Beauty and the Beast Jr.” promises to have something for everyone who attends the show at the National Cultural Centre on March 30th, whether it is magnificent costumes (by Bravo Arts), a live band, emotional performances, beautiful singing, little children doing cute choreography, or simply one of the rare pieces of theatre that might come closest to being like a Broadway musical here in Guyana, or even if it is to just see another form of the eternal story, there will be definitely be something to take your breath away.