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La Jolla kids bring a youthful touch to ‘Beauty and the Beast’

A huge cast of local kids should make quite a spectacle out of an upcoming production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

The J Company Youth Theater, a program of the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at La Jolla’s Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, will stage the play March 9 through 25. The cast of over 70 young actors from all over San Diego County includes nearly a dozen kids from La Jolla. The play will be directed by J Company Artistic Director Joey Landwehr, a veteran actor and director who has worked on Broadway as well as in national tours and regional theater.

Landwehr said the big cast of young people will make the production stand out from past productions of “Beauty and the Beast.”

“This is one of the largest casts of young people to do this show,” Landwehr said. “You’ll see the kids working together much more than you see in other youth productions. They’ll be coming out on stage really being an ensemble, being a unit. That’s what is really going to pop when people see the show.”

Sixty-eight kids from elementary to high school make up the cast. The lead roles will be played by Dorothy Guthrie as Belle, Phillip Bowen as the Beast, and Trevor Bowles as Gaston. The La Jolla youths featured in the play are Adriana Yedidsion, Danielle Smotrich, Emily Mann, Alison Carey, Jess Jacobs, Dominic Riolo, Lena White, Megan Evans, Chelsea Huntly-Playle, Sydney Posnock and BreaRose Smith.

Landwehr has worked with large casts in youth productions before, and said that this cast has shown a greater work ethic than most.

“It’s wonderful to watch them all work together,” Landwehr said. “We’re not having the attitude that usually goes along with a huge group. They all want to work together and want to be here.”

The youths in Landwehr’s cast have worked hard on things other than what they will perform on stage. The director, who once taught Shakespeare to third-graders, attaches an educational component to all of his youth productions. When he staged the J Company production of “Oliver,” Landwehr brought in dialect coaches to teach his young actors different English and Irish dialects. He asked each member of the cast of “Beauty and the Beast” to write a letter to a government official asking them to maintain funding for arts programs and inviting them to the performance.

“Some of them brought tears to my eyes, they were so passionate and beautiful and articulate about how the arts have changed their lives,” Landwehr said. “If that doesn’t change the minds of the politicians, I don’t know what will. It was wonderful, they really did embrace it.”

Auditions for the play were held in January. Landwehr said a lot of preparation time was needed because the show is going to be the biggest spectacle the J Company has ever put on.

“With this show, we needed all the time we could possibly get,” he said. “There’s huge costumes, immense sets, lighting effects, sound effects ... This show is really Disney’s first foray into theater, so they jumped in with both feet. If you cut corners with a show like this, it really shows, so we’re not going to do that.”

In order to bring the spectacle to the stage, Landwehr has enlisted a technical crew with serious credentials. The set will be designed by David Weiner, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his sets on Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays.” Set designer Robbie Henry is a veteran of La Jolla Playhouse. The lighting will be done by Jen Setlow and costumes by Shulamit Nelson.

“We couldn’t have a more top-notch crew on the tech end,” Landwehr said.

The musical director is Rayme Sciaroni, who directed J Company’s production of “Guys and Dolls” last year and was recently the musical director for “Oliver.”

“Beauty and the Beast” begins March 9 at the David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre at 4126 Executive Drive. Tickets are $12.50 for children and $16.50 for adults and are available online at www.lfjcc.org or by phone at (858) 362-1348. For a complete listing of show times, visit www.lfjcc.org/jcompany.