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Kids bring Beauty and The Beast to life at Hult Center

Jordan King, 15, played the lead character Belle and greeted friends and younger girls in the Hult Center lobby after the play ended. Photo by Taylor Perse.

EUGENE, Ore. - A cast of more than 60 children brought Disney's Beauty & The Beast to life at the Hult Center in Eugene, Ore., in Upstart Crow Studios' production of the classic musical this weekend.

Disney's Beauty & The Beast, Jr. ran Friday, March 17, through Sunday, March 19. Show times were 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets ranged from $10 to $28. The show was directed by Jacquelyn Byers and Eularee Smith.

Saturday night’s production starred Jordan King, 15, as Belle and Mackenzie NesSmith, 18, as The Beast.

“This was the first play I acted in when I was in Entr’actes," said King, who has been with Upstart Crow Studios for eight years. “So, it’s really amazing to go from being a little, tiny extra to being Belle, and it’s crazy that we get to perform at the Hult Center.”

King said her high school does not have a theater program so she is thankful to be able to act with Upstart Crow and help teach younger kids in the program.

NesSmith, who is in his last year at Upstart Crow, said he plans on studying theater at the University of Oregon next year.

“Upstart Crow is like my second family," NesSmith said. "They have been there for me through thick and thin. It has become a second support system for me.”

The musical opened Friday, March 17, on the same day that Disney’s recent live-action version of Beauty & The Beast was released in movie theaters. NesSmith said it was the perfect time to put on the musical since the new movie has increased popularity for the story.

“If a little girl had to choose between watching the movie or coming and meeting Belle, she would definitely come and meet Belle," King said.

Playing such iconic characters came easily to the actors.

“It’s a lot to live up to, but exciting," NesSmith said. “Growing up watching these characters, it’s basically become second nature. The stage version of the story really humanizes The Beast. You get to see his backstory and why he makes the decisions he does.”

Many audience members dressed formally for the show, and some young Disney fans wore Belle’s signature yellow gown.

Aimee DeLee attended the show with her daughters, who dressed up as Mrs. Potts and Belle.

“I thought the casting was done really well," DeLee said. “I think that Belle, Gaston, and Beast had great voices. It’s nice for my kids, who really want to do drama, come and see other kids doing it and being successful.”

Saturday evening’s performance ended with a surprise marriage proposal on stage from an audience member to his girlfriend sitting in the audience. The young actors helped with the proposal by holding up signs that read: “Will You Marry Me?”

Upstart Crow Studios is a Eugene-based youth acting organization that offers children acting classes and produces community performances. Every child that auditions for a show is given a role.

“As someone who is about to age out of the program, it’s really amazing to get to see someone like Jordan King evolve not only as people, but as artists," NesSmith said.

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