Children's Theatre presents twist on 'Beauty & the Beast'
It's become something of a summer tradition in the lakes area.
Once every year, toward the end of June, a pair of actor-directors from the Missoula Children's Theatre in Missoula, Mont., makes the journey to Detroit Lakes for a weeklong children's theater workshop at the Historic Holmes Theatre.
Each year's workshop culminates in a live performance by the budding thespians -- and this year is no exception.
MCT's latest pair of wandering minstrels, Kay Akervik and Merelee Robinson, have been in Detroit Lakes since Monday. Each day, they lead the 60 young actors and two assistant directors through daily rehearsals in preparation for their public debut on Friday, June 26.
"We auditioned the kids on Monday, and by this Friday, we'll be putting on a full-scale musical," said Robinson.
The musical, "Beauty Lou & The Country Beast," puts a decidedly down home twist on the classic Hans Christian Andersen fable, "Beauty & The Beast."
And yes, it includes several original songs, from "County Fair," "Rodeo Hoedown" and "Cowboy's Lament" to "Wish Upon A Wishbone" and "Barnyard Symphony."
As explained by Akervik, the basic premise is this: "Buckaroo Bonnie has seven daughters, the oldest of which is Beauty Lou. The farm is doing poorly and Bonnie is going to the rodeo to try to win the cash prize. She loses, but she promised that she would bring home a rose for Beauty."
And that's where the tale takes on the character of the Andersen classic. On the way home from the rode, Bonnie makes the mistake of plucking a rose from the garden of The Beast. He confronts her, and demands that she surrender her eldest daughter to him as a penalty for taking one of his precious roses. So Beauty finds herself on her way to a new life with The Beast.
The lesson of the tale, said Robinson, is "don't judge a book by its cover." By the end of the story, Beauty has discovered that Beast is a kind person, and they become best friends.
And that's not the only lesson that the workshop participants are learning this week, she added.
"MCT changed my life," she said, noting that it was her own participation in MCT musicals as a child that led her to audition for a part as one of the company's 47 touring teams of actor-directors.
"It doesn't just teach you theater skills, it teaches you life skills... to be a part of a team, stay focused and stay committed to something -- and to listen and follow directions. It's not just about theater -- and that's what I love about it."
Akervik, meanwhile, decided to audition because she saw MCT as "a fascinating organization."
"It's a combination of the travel (from city to city) and seeing the transformation of the kids when you're working with them," she added. "Teaching a new group each week, and seeing them grow into their roles, is very rewarding."
The actors who work with MCT love it so much that they usually want to keep coming back year after year, Akervik added -- which makes the audition process very competitive.
For more than 30 years, MCT has been touring shows to communities such as Detroit Lakes -- and now has teams in "all 50 states, four Canadian provinces and 16 foreign countries," said Robinson. (For more information about MCT, see the organization's Web site, www.mctinc.org.)
Though the workshop participants do not need to be present for all four hours of each day's rehearsals, they do need to be there at specific times each day, to ensure that they are as prepared as possible for Friday's performance.
"Beauty Lou & The Country Beast" will be presented this Friday, June 26 at 7 p.m., on the stage of the Historic Holmes Theatre. There will also be a special encore performance on Saturday, June 27 at 10:30 a.m.
Tickets are $5 for adults, and $2 for students, and can be purchased either online at www.dlccc.org, by phone at 218-844-SHOW (7469), or directly from the Holmes Theatre Box Office, 806 Summit Ave., between the hours of 10 a.m.-2 p.m. each day (the box office is also open for two hours prior to each performance).