NEWBURYPORT — Nock Middle School students will take to the stage this evening to breathe life into some of the most beloved Disney characters of all time.
Under the direction of eighth-grade English teacher Mike Pirollo and with musical accompaniment from retired music teacher Joe Nuccio, the students will resurrect Belle, Gaston, Beast and a castle full of larger-than-life tableware for five magical performances of "Beauty and the Beast."
And in the telling, they may just prove that the once-thriving Nock Middle School theater community has been resurrected, as well, coming back with its largest-scale performance since budget cuts decimated the program in 2007.
"I've never put something on like this in 11 years of productions," Pirollo said. "How can you go small with something Disney? Everything is larger than life — the set, the props. We have two giant-sized pies the waiters carry around — it's pretty elaborate."
As in the past four years, when Pirollo and other volunteers patched together shows with the help of parents and staffers, this year's show features magical sets constructed and installed by local parents and craftsmen like Glenn Markey, Jeff Sarra and Mike Barlow, costumes hand-sewn by a team of parents and a painted backdrop created by Amesbury mural artist John Moors, who worked for a time as a designer at Universal Studios.
"We've had so many companies and businesses help us out," Pirollo said.
It's so exquisite, one wouldn't know that this year's production was chosen at the last minute, when the planned production of "The Wizard of Oz" unexpectedly fell through.
"We were actually supposed to do "The Wizard of Oz," but we had some issues with the contract," he said. "We had already done auditions and were ready to go and start rehearsing. But in actuality, it couldn't have been a better thing that happened, because these kids are really meant for these roles."
Eighth-grader Annie Kate Gross will be performing the role of Belle in the production, and the love-struck Gaston will be played by Liam O'Connell.
"He is a big sports guy who injured his leg so he couldn't do sports," Pirollo said. "He's that big, tough guy, and his sidekick LeFou (Ryan Murdock) is really funny. They're good friends in real life."
Will Mombello will play the role of Beast, supported by a cast of 89 students who will play villagers from Belle's hometown, tableware to accompany Mrs. Potts the teapot, played by Anna Moore, Lumiere the candlestick played by Jogis Vainauskas or any number of characters created especially for this performance.
"There are tons of parts for the kids," Pirollo said. "We have a seventh-grader who is a wannabe Gaston, whom we dress in the same kind of outfit. Those are all the people in the village. Then, we have all the castle people."
Pirollo said that 129 students originally auditioned for roles in the show, forcing him and other evaluators to make difficult choices in the interest of manageability. While some of those students will find roles in a future Nock musical, Pirollo said he was happy to be able to accommodate a number of eighth-graders in the production, some of whom are performing as leads for the first time. All in all, he said, the turnout for the show is heartening, considering the setbacks the theater department has seen in recent years.
"It's exciting," he said. "We've never had that many kids audition, so it's pretty cool. It definitely is growing. The amount of work and time that's going into the show is way bigger."
And so is the amount of help he's getting from the community and from teachers at the middle school who have experience with the theater and want the annual musicals to succeed. With help from Nuccio and Jamie Sokolowski, who will bring back the Nock chorus next year, songs like "Be our Guest" and "Tale as Old as Time" will captivate the audience, he said.
"They worked side by side," Pirollo said of the duo. "He's running the show as the piano player, and Jamie is conducting and playing an instrument. Kristin Quinn is doing the choreography."
The large-scale reproductions of dinner plates and other assorted tableware worn by the players will come compliments of a troupe of "mouseketeers" that have been helping Pirollo for years.
"This year, Lisa Rikeman headed up the costume moms and all the costumes for the castle people — plates, napkins and dishes," Pirollo said. "All those costumes have been handmade, and they're pretty elaborate, with plumes, sequins and feathers. There was a troupe of mouseketeers who have been sewing for months now. They're extremely dedicated."
For tonight's performance, which features a sold-out dinner following the show, tickets can be purchased at the door prior to the 5:30 p.m. show for $10. If you don't catch the show on opening night, there are four more to choose from, tomorrow at 7 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes prior to curtain call.