John Harvey and his friends wished for a drama department at Neshoba Central High School for years. Now a senior, Harvey and about 100 other students were ecstatic to be part of the school’s first full length Broadway-like production.
Belle - Lauren Gwen Posey, Gaston - Kaleb Prewitt
Harvey portrayed Beast/Prince Adam in “Beauty and the Beast” in four performances in the high school gym before packed crowds.
“I sang in front of a crowd for the first time in all the 18 years of my life,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest thing I’m thankful for. I’ve always loved the idea of performing whether it was singing, dancing or acting and the school finally gave me a chance to do it.”
The play was directed by Angela Boatner, who teaches Spanish at Neshoba Central. She also teaches music appreciation online at East Central Community College.
She has a master’s degree in music education and will complete her doctorate in July.
While she teaches Spanish, Boatner said her heart is in theater.
“We just started meeting, did auditions and then went from there,” she said of the play. Students in grades nine through 12 were invited to audition.
After completing auditions in December, rehearsals began in January.
Boatner said 101 students had roles in the play both in background and foreground. One elementary school student and a couple of middle schoolers joined in for extra parts.
The characters Belle, Maurice and Madame D’Arque were double cast.
Boatner said the biggest challenge for the school’s production was scheduling the numerous rehearsals around everyone’s activities.
“Just trying to make sure we could get everybody here for rehearsals was our number one challenge,” she said. “We made it through fine. We just had to be really flexible with each other. That was not an issue, just a challenge.”
While Boatner, parents and others made several costumes, they ordered costumes for the main characters. Students built the scenery, painted, etc.
Boatner’s daughter, Jessie Palmer, did the choreography.
“She has choreographed everything that I have done,” Boatner said. “She did a wonderful job and the kids loved her.”
Neshoba County Superintendent of Education Lundy Brantley said he was proud of the hard work and dedication of the staff and students.
“The musical was truly a first class event,” he said. “I look forward to the future of our Theatre Program at NCHS.”
Harvey performed the Beast’s song, “If I Can’t Love Her,” in the production. That was his favorite part of the experience.
Because of his shyness, he said singing was his biggest challenge.
“I was very scared of singing in front of anyone, but the play and the cast helped me overcome that and not be so shy anymore,” he said.
Senior Jessy Thrash, who portrayed “Mrs. Potts” in the play, got involved in the production because of her interest in theater.
“When it was finally announced that we would have a production this year, I had to take the opportunity,” she said.
Her biggest challenge was “letting loose and getting comfortable with acting and singing in front of others.”
Her favorite part of the experience was not only performing but making some really great friends.
“I’m very appreciative of the opportunity this experience gave me to be involved in such a fun production,” she said. “I didn’t realize at first how kind everyone would be and how hard everyone wanted to work to make the production great. It’s been a dream come true and I’m definitely going to miss it.”
Boatner hopes the recent production is the beginning of a very successful theater program at Neshoba Central.
“So many kids were involved,” she said. “I don’t see how we could back up now because the kids are eager to audition for a fall production. They just can’t wait to perform again. It’s like I’ve created a bunch of littler theater monsters!”
Boatner is planning a musical revue for the fall.
She said the recent production could not have been possible without the environment that was created to foster it.
“From Dr. Lundy Brantley, to the School Board, principal Jason Gentry and everyone else, the support was phenomenal,” she said. “We had so much support.”
Gentry was “extremely proud of the amount of time and effort that Mrs. Boatner, the crew and students put in to make ‘Beauty and the Beast’ an amazing production.”
He said the initial idea that started in January and culminated into what “we were presented through four performances just shows what happens when dedicated people have a vision of what they want. We look forward to next year as we have already begun planning for our fall production."
- Debbie Myers
Belle - Lauren Gwen Posey, LeFou - Anna Beth Kilgore
Lumiere - Anna-Kaye Bennett Maurice - Nathan Killen, Beast - John Harvey