By Loren Weiss

231t6 beauty and beast theatricalIf there’s anything that performers around the globe have learned in the past two years, it’s that pandemics and performances don’t exactly mesh well. Thousands of concerts, plays, and art showings were delayed or canceled as questions about the COVID-19 pandemic rose unanswered, and for the years of 2020 and 2021, it seemed as if there would be no answer to them. The CSA was no exception to this consequence of the virus; social distancing and other safety measures created a tension around indoor activities, and it was almost without question - the 2020 production of Beauty and the Beast would have to be postponed.

The operettas have been a fundamental part of CSA culture ever since the first Children’s Operetta, The Snow Queen, in 1931. With each new director came a different approach to the musicals; before our current volunteer team of director Judy Rodes, producer Molly Harrison, and musical director Marilyn Winter, the charismatic Steve Elrick was directing and acting in the shows. Countless roadblocks have arisen throughout the years, but giving up isn’t the CSA way, and the volunteers and community have always found a way to make ends meet. “One year Steve Elrick and I were casting, and we didn’t have enough men,” Judy reminisces with a laugh. “We heard that somebody in Beulah at the ice cream store sang, so we went over and said Hey, can you be in this show? So, you know, it’s always been like that.” Whether it was casting shortages, copyright claims, or some other strange circumstance, they had it handled - but, well, a global pandemic is a considerable cause for a different approach.

Even in its beginning talks in 2018, CSA’s Beauty and the Beast was no normal operetta, making its postponement even more discouraging. To produce and put on an official showing of a non-original play or musical, the directing team has to pay royalties to the owners in order to legally use the music, script, and premise in their own production. This alone is a very costly process and a big commitment, so the decision for the Assembly to put on the show was a big one. Also, since Beauty and the Beast is such a recognizable title, Judy, Molly, and Marilyn wanted to make sure it was done right - and done well. Now, with the show four years in the making, everyone with a part in the production is prepared, excited, and ready.

Another thing that made Beauty and the Beast different is that since it was originally planned for 2020, the principal roles were cast in the summer of 2019, in order for the cast members to connect with their characters. A few of the castings were revealed in a sneak peek video created in 2020, with Dave Johnson as Lumiere, Greg Abbey as Gaston, Katherine Barbour as Belle, Joe Perrino as The Beast, and Shannon Wise as Mrs. Potts.

Katherine Barbour recounts how the stressors in her work life got more and more relevant as each summer passed; “It’s every girl’s dream to be Belle. I was having a fight with myself because I didn’t know what I was doing next summer. I thought that I might be going to graduate school… but you know what, I made a commitment. This show is something I want to do, and the directors want me to do; it’s something that I’d love, and I knew it would be an amazing experience.” Maggie Swetland was cast on July 29th this year to play Chip as the final touch to the principal cast, and the ensemble came together on August 1st, solidifying their promise to themselves: the show would go on.

The delay, though unfortunate, hasn’t been all bad; Molly coordinates between the set design team led by Gary and Judy Dawley and the production team, and the extra two summers gave them more time to finalize, construct, and reutilize the appropriate set pieces. Most of the principal actors also had much more time than usual to settle into their roles and connect to the story. Best of all, the news of this resilient show and its cast members has excited everyone in the CSA community and surrounding areas. After two years without these performances, the Congregational Summer Assembly is back and ready to show their audiences what they’re made of. The show will take place on August 12th and 13th at 7:30pm in the Meeting House. We hope to see you there - and that you’ll be our guest!