Five Pine-Richland teens performing at Byham
On a recent Wednesday night, roughly 70 students filled a practice room at Pittsburgh Musical Theater on the West Side and watched as their fellow cast members rehearsed a scene from “Beauty and the Beast” in which Belle and the Beast are attacked by wolves.
One of those wolves, Pine-Richland High School senior Aubrie Knapp, crouched, leapt and circled the Beast before simulating taking a bite out of his leg.
Knapp is one of five Pine-Richland students taking part in PMT’s all-student fall production of the popular fairy tale musical about a young girl and the prince who must learn to love and be loved in return in order to break a spell cast over him and everyone in his castle.
The cast had just 14 rehearsals over three weeks before performing live as part of the Family Magic at the Byham Theater Series Oct. 26 to 29. The production will be backed by approximately 80 musicians from Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts School, or CAPA.
“We put these kids on a professional stage with a professional crew around them, so it’s a professional opportunity for them,” said PMT Executive Artistic Director Colleen Doyno. “And as far as an educational value goes, there’s nothing that will ever match this for them. This is so wonderful.”
Some of the larger roles are double-cast to allow more opportunities for students to perform, and many play roles in the ensemble pieces in addition to having speaking parts.
In addition to playing a wolf and a napkin, Knapp, 18, will play Babette, an enchanted feather duster, on Thursday night and Saturday night.
“I think it’s a really great experience to be doing conservatory work at this age, at this level, on the Byham stage,” said Knapp, who plans to go to college for either musical theater or dance. “It teaches us how to interact with different types of people, personalities and backgrounds.”
Amarianna Busa, 16, plays Le Fou, the sidekick of Gaston played by Josh Gad in the recent Disney movie adaptation. This will be her third fall production with PMT.
“I love being on the Byham stage,” she said. “You’re in this tiny rehearsal room one day and on the Byham stage the next, and when the house is full you get such a rush.”
This will be the first PMT show for Nora McKee, who will play the sausage curl girl from the village. She came to watch Knapp and Busa in their show last spring and decided to join.
“I’m nervous but more excited than anything just to be standing on a stage that big,” said McKee, 16. “I go see shows there. Real shows. To think I’m going to be standing on that stage is crazy.”
Bekah Shipley, 16, will also be performing in her first show with PMT. She started doing shows with Jeter Backyard Theater as a child and said performing brings her joy.
“It’s been crazy but I love it,” said Shipley, who plays a milkmaid. “I wouldn’t want to be doing anything other than being here and rehearsing. It’s a learning experience I’m grateful for and really fun, too.”
Melina Walco plays lady with cane in the village and said this is her first fall show. While it was a challenge initially balancing school work and rehearsals, she said it’s been a great experience.
“Everyone’s so talented and it’s such a fun show to be in because of the costumes and the fact that everyone gets to be an enchanted object at some point,” said Walco, 17. “When do you get to be an enchanted fork or a random household object? That’s pretty cool.”
Karen Price is a Tribune-Review contributor.