New Paltz Middle School and Highland High School stage Disney Junior shows

Highland High School eleventh grader Jamie Carlson as the Beast and eleventh grader Hailey Gallinari as Beauty in Highland High School’s upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast, Jr. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The drama clubs at New Paltz Middle School and Highland High School are both offering Disney classics for their winter theater productions next week. New Paltz Middle School will present four opportunities to see “The Lion King, Jr.” Friday through Sunday, February 24-26. Highland High School’s Harlequins will do a single performance of “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” on Friday, February 24. (Snow date is Saturday, February 25).

“Broadway Junior” musicals are condensed, author-approved versions of classic musicals and Disney favorites. Designed to suit audiences of all ages as well as the energies and attention spans of younger performers, Broadway Junior musicals are an ideal way to introduce students to the joys of participating in a show. The kids are often already familiar with the material — especially in the case of Disney shows — and the music is written in keys that are appropriate for developing voices.  Not only that, all of the “junior” shows can be adapted to accommodate as many performers as can fit on a school stage, something very useful when a lot of kids want to be a part of the show.


Performing in school plays is a wonderful vehicle for students to develop confidence and poise. Those who participate in drama productions learn every bit as much as youngsters on sports teams do about how to interact with each other as a group pursuing a common goal. But the benefits of exposure to live theater extend to the children in the audience, as well, who, a recent university study showed, develop enhanced tolerance and empathy from watching live theater, better able to recognize and appreciate what other people think and feel.

Aside from that, it’s just fun. Especially for the fifth grader looking forward to moving up to middle school, who watches the play with his or her family and imagines having that experience themselves in the coming years. So round up the family and head out into the cold; tickets don’t cost much and the memories just may last a lifetime. Or inspire one.


The Lion King, Jr. at New Paltz Middle School

The New Paltz Middle School Drama Club is staging “The Lion King, Jr.” this year, an adaptation for young performers of the 1997 Broadway musical, which is based in turn on the 1994 Disney movie. Evening performances will be on Friday and Saturday, February 24 and 25 at 7 p.m. Two afternoon matinees will be presented on Saturday, February 25 at 2 p.m. and Sunday, February 26 at 3 p.m. Tickets to the performances cost $5 and are available prior to each performance at the school auditorium, 196 Main Street.

The storyline begins as Rafiki gathers the animals of the Pridelands to welcome the newborn cub of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi. The king’s jealous brother, Scar, no longer heir to the throne, skips the ceremony. As time passes, young Simba grows into a curious young lion. After King Mufasa explains the “circle of life” and tells Simba that he will one day be king, a chain of events is unleashed that leads to Scar’s seizing of power and coming-of-age lessons for Simba before peace in the kingdom is restored with Simba in his rightful place.

The Lion King, Jr. is directed by Mary Holmes, world languages teacher at the middle school, who puts more than 20 years of experience producing school plays to work on this latest production. Holmes initiated the drama club at the middle school when she first came to teach in New Paltz approximately ten years ago, after teaching in Syracuse and directing the high school performances there.

The cast features Davion Mumper as Young Simba, Siri Walsh as Young Nala, Andrew Geher as Simba, Calla Savelson as Nala, Queen Irving as Rafiki, Mark LaBorde as Mufasa, Christine Vigliotti as Zazu, Jack Iovanella as Timon, Jenna Triguero as Pumbaa, Rhys Weires as Scar, Alex Hill as Banzai, Rosie Savelson as Shenzi, Kaitlyn Weinerman as Ed, Jessica Dugatkin as Sarabi and Solo Diedhiou as Sarafina.

Dancing lionesses are portrayed by Emilyn Wheeler, Stephanie Dobosh, Cate Osterweil, Sage Rochetti, Sage Wolfson, Hannah Wright and Fiona Walsh. The singing lionesses are Jessica Dugatkin, Rebecca Ingrassia, Harper Serringer, Reeti Patel, Paris White, Madison Harp, Solo Diedhiou, Eliza Behrke, Anna Adams, Laila Mach, Lindsey Clinton, Fallon Geisler, Sophia Schwartz and Ella Constable. The show also includes a large ensemble of support players.


Beauty and the Beast, Jr. at Highland High School

The HHS Harlequins will present Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” at Highland High School, 320 Pancake Hollow Road, on Friday, February 24 at 7 p.m. (Snow date is Saturday, February 25 at 7 p.m.) Tickets — available in the main office in advance or at the door prior to the performance — cost $12 for adults and $10 for students and senior citizens. Admission for kids age five and under is free.

The storyline involves spirited young Belle, whose path crosses with that of the Beast when she seeks to rescue her imprisoned father from the Beast’s lair. Exchanging herself for her father’s freedom, she goes to live in the castle, encountering a cruel host she will later find is really a prince put under a spell until he could learn to love. A castle full of friendly servants in the form of animated candelabras and teapots, however, do their best to make her feel welcome. (The household items singing “Be Our Guest” has to be one of the catchiest of all Disney tunes.) The servants will eventually be returned to their human form when the spell cast on the Beast is broken, but not without a lot of drama along the way.

The production is performed through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized materials are also supplied by MTI.

The show is directed by Highland High School’s choir director Lynda Keech, producing her ninth full-stage production as musical director of the HHS Harlequins. She said she chose the show in part because this is the 25th anniversary of the animated Disney movie, which became a Broadway stage show in 1993. Highland High School band director Drew Rebecchi is assistant director for the show.

The cast features Hailey Gallinari as Belle, Jamie Carlson as the Beast/Prince, Joshua Sutton as Maurice, Patrick VanNorstrand as Gaston, Megan Morgan as LeFou, Emily Cashman as Lumiere, Penelope DiIorio as Cogsworth, Lynzie Hegeman as Mrs. Potts, Jenna Mazzetti as Babette and Monsieur D’Arque, Miranda Morgan as Madame De La Grande Bouche and Old Beggar Woman/Enchantress and Faith and Thalan Riley as Chip. The “Silly Girls” are portrayed by Brianna Acosta, Alexa Kelly and Miranda Morgan, with narrators/villagers and servants/ensemble handled by Sera Dubois, Miranda Morgan, Alexa Kelly, Brianna Acosta, Emma Gorden, Sierra Perry, Misty Cook and Sofia CrimiVaroli. The stage manager is Emma Gorden, assisted by Sera Dubois.

Adult volunteers — staff, friends, parents and community members — have a history of helping out with Highland’s stage productions. This year those volunteers include Paul Krystek (set design and construction), Darrell Keech (set construction, lights and sound), Scott Hegeman and Pete Belizzi (set construction), Jolee Dubois and Beth Zambito (art), AnnMarie Meisel (art and props), Dawn Sutton and Gabrielle Komatz (costumes and props) and Cathy Johnson (advertising).