Many remember the classic Disney cartoon “Beauty and the Beast,” which also spawned a successful musical on Broadway. This weekend, the tale comes alive at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center courtesy of the Amazing Grace Conservatory.
The theatre arts school, in its 12th year, will be performing the musical on Saturday and Sunday (May 10 and 11) and once again on May 17 and 18 as part of its annual spring showcase.
The play, directed by Denise Dowse, features a cast of 75 youth ranging from 7-21 years old and will mix in the original scores from the cartoon and the Broadway musical along with urban contemporary songs and an original composition from music/vocal director Stephan Terry.
For those unfamiliar with Amazing Grace and its history of productions, attendees can expect a dynamic show with splendid choreography, excellent singing and rich acting that will take you on an unexpected, yet fulfilling journey that you won’t want to come back from.
At the helm of Amazing Grace is a familiar name to television and film audiences: Wendy Raquel Robinson, who currently stars on CW’s sitcom “The Game” but is perhaps more famously known for her role as Regina Grier on the WB’s classic sitcom “The Steve Harvey Show.”
An L.A. native who attended Washington Prep High School, Robinson is also a gifted dancer, writer, producer, choreographer in her own right, but it is her work with Amazing Grace that is fulfilling a passion she developed as a college student at Howard working with a children’s theatre program.
“I was just teaching what I knew but the connection I had with them was amazing,” Robinson recalled. “Acting and dancing has always been a passion for me so when I’m able to collaborate when someone who is eager to learn and study it, it reignites the kid in me.”
The school has featured many acclaimed performances during its existence and when asked why they chose to do “Beauty and the Beast” for the first time, Robinson said that when this current session started in February, the students began training using the music from the movie.
“The [kids] were so excited because they knew the music, the story and these characters,” Robinson said, adding that the challenge came after the auditions in March when the students had to add their personal interpretations to their roles.
She admitted that prior to February she had never seen either version of “Beauty and the Beast,” but when she did, she was captivated by the Oscar-nominated score.
“The story itself is amazing but the music behind it is timeless. And to hear the young voices sing classics like this is amazing,” she said.
Like any musical, the songs help move “Beauty and the Beast along”, from the humorous “Be Our Guest” sung by the castle servants to the romantic title song serving as a backdrop for Belle and the Beast’s growing love for each other.
The music allows for a range of emotions to make the audience to feel like they are part of the story and that is what the students and the Amazing Grace staff look to convey with their performances.
Among the incredible talent that will be on display, Robinson highlighted the powerful voice of the young woman, Asia Fluellen, who will play Belle, and the depth of the young man, Colin Guilliard, brings to his role as the Beast. But it’s the combined elements that each cast member brings to their role that make her the proudest.
The school has always been a labor of love for Robinson, who was inspired to pursue the arts after watching movies such as “Grease” and “Fame.” Her mother would take her to every singing or dance class possible and it’s that same passion and devotion that she has passed on to her students.
It set the background for a nearly two-decade career in television, film and the stage and by God’s grace, she is able to do what she loves: develop the creativity and self-expression in a new generation.
If you are free this weekend or the next, come out and support this wonderful display of young talent. Tickets will be $15 in advance and $20 at the door.
“You can expect to be entertained, enlightened and go back in time to 1747 to experience one of the greatest love stories of all time,” Robinson said with a smile.