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'Beauty and the Beast' to be performed in Suwanee

Jeffrey Scott Bailey has been on the job since last October, planning a theatrical experience that will "knock 'em dead," as the saying goes.

The result of this 10-month effort will be an exciting, extravagant production of "Beauty and the Beast" today and Saturday. Both shows are at 8 p.m. at Suwanee's Town Center Park amphitheater.

Admission is free, although a special section has been marked off, down front and center, for tables and sponsor seating. For $90 patrons can enjoy a table for eight, or $45 for four. Those attending can bring picnics to be enjoyed on low profile tables complete with tablecloths as they lounge on the ground (although tables with regular chairs are available, too.) Patrons are encouraged to BYOP - bring your own pillow.

As theater buffs settle in for the show, they will be in for an evening of amazing production values. A cast and crew of 40 youngsters will bring the story of Belle and the Beast to life on a most unusual set.

In years past, Suwanee Performing Arts Inc. has produced a two-part evening of entertainment mounted around a common theme, such as last year's "Ali Babba and the 40 Thieves" coupled with "Aladdin." This year, Bailey decided it was time for a two-hour musical, a "huge show."

Bailey's connections in the theater industry, a product of his extensive professional career, led him to tap into the original costumes and other set pieces from the "Beauty and the Beast" national tour. He rented the entire production. However, the show is not on a usual theater stage indoors. It is to be on an amphitheatre stage, where many viewers can see into the "wings" and backstage areas. It would be difficult to roll sets on and offstage.

This challenge was met with a brilliant idea: The stage area is divided into three parts. The central area is the town and the Beast's castle. The left side incorporates a 10-foot bridge that leads to Belle's cottage.

"Everything in the castle is created out of people," Bailey said. "The throne the Beast sits on, the lamps and a bookcase are all created using the actors and costuming. They become living set pieces."

This also gives an opportunity for another idea, that of using groups of actors as a Greek chorus to follow the storyline along. The Rose is also a living entity, ballerina Christina Leaman, who will come to life on a 4-foot pedestal.

Playing Belle is Jordan Forte, who is described by Bailey as "nothing short of phenomenal." Travis Scoggins is the Beast, and Jack Erwin is Gaston. Other major cast members include Steven Jones, Alex Cornell and Travis Nilson.

"These young actors went through 'Comedy Boot Camp,'" Bailey said. "Thank goodness for YouTube. I had them watch the greats of comedy such as Martin and Lewis and the Smothers Brothers to get an idea of great comedic timing."

Suwanee Performing Arts Inc. is now a nonprofit 501c3 organization. To find out more about it, visit the Web site at www.suwaneeperformingarts.com.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.