Beauty and the Beast is a traditional fairytale that has been performed on many stages and in many forms. First a written rendition by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Gallon de Villeneuve published in 1740, it has since made its way to the big screen with Jean Cocteau’s French film, La Belle et la Bête in 1946, the big screen again with the popular Disney version in 1991, and then to Broadway as a smash hit musical. There have been many additional renditions throughout the years, and now among the most recent, the St. Stanislaus Kostka Drama Club’s theatrical performance in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
St. Stan’s Drama Club, run by Mrs. Frances Zito and Miss Helen Kazes and consisting of fifth through eighth graders, debuted their version of Beauty and the Beast this past weekend in their school auditorium. Opening night on Friday, June 4 followed shortly by closing night on Saturday, June 5, were both a great success.
This year is only the second one for the Drama Club. Kazes, a fifth grade teacher, ran the club solo for a year before Zito, a fourth grade teacher, intervened and the two joined forces. After going the first year alone, Kazes wasn’t sure if she could do it again by herself. She says, “But then last year in September, Mrs. Zito approached me and she said, ‘You know, if you want to do Drama Club again, I’ll do it with you.’” Kazes was thrilled.
Last year the Drama Club did The King and I, which was wonderfully received. Why Beauty and the Beast this year? Zito offers, “We needed something that could include a large cast, and the children love to sing. We wanted them [all] to feel like they were truly a part of [the play] even if they weren’t one of the principal cast members.”
The students started rehearsing at the start of the year, meeting every Thursday for an hour and a half to two hours until the holiday break in December. After that, they added a Tuesday rehearsal for the principal actors and actresses only and kept Thursday for the whole cast. The Drama Club members span the gamut in age, but when it came time for casting, there was no hierarchy. The parts were assigned according to who was most fit for each role.
Belle, Beast and Lefou were played by two sixth graders; Gaston, Mrs. Potts and Lumiere, eighth graders; and Cogsworth was played by a fifth grader. Though there was the occasional microphone or volume issue, the children never faltered with their lines, and they sang the wide array of Beauty and the Beast hits—“Belle,” “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest,” to name a few—clearly and with confidence.
Aside from the impressive acting and the vibrant musical numbers, there were also the costumes, which were a huge highlight. Each one colorful, elaborate and extremely detailed, these costumes were clearly made with love. Many were ordered from various costumes shops, and the rest were tailored by Zito herself, who sometimes dabbles with art in the classroom but has never taken on a project quite this vast before.
These highly crafted and ornate costumes would not have been possible without help from their sponsor ELITE Learning of Brooklyn. Last year the very generous ELITE, who asks only that they get credit in exchange for their help, funded their new stage curtain and sound system, as well. Needless to say, Zito and Kazes are unbelievably grateful for their generosity.
In addition to ELITE, the Drama Club has gotten a little help from other friends, mainly former students. For a lot of the students that came back to help, it had been five or six years since they had attended St. Stan’s. Kazes adds, “Two of them graduated this morning from high school and came to help tonight. They said, ‘That’s all right, we’ll go out with our families afterwards.’”
As a crowd starts to form around Zito and Kazes, mostly actors and actresses who want to say thank you or have their picture taken with the women, Kazes says, “We’re just very proud of them. We pulled through!” As she’s saying this, Zito adds, “We can’t wait until next year!”