JOHNSTOWN — The Johnstown Drama Club will showcase the musical Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” this weekend, a long-told tale which it will tell with a special intention.
The trio of performances — kicking off Friday at 6 p.m. — will be dedicated to teacher and set designer Christopher DeConno, who passed away suddenly in December, shortly before rehearsals began.
“Chris passed away the day after Christmas, so then the kids and I met a couple of days later, and decided that we were going to go forward as scheduled,” the show’s director and choreographer Ashley Polidore said.
DeConno began brainstorming for the set in September and spent hours working on it. He ordered a rental rose that drops petals during the show and designed the show’s poster and the tickets to be sold, according to Polidore.
“He got a head start months in advance because he was so excited to do it,” Polidore said. “So it just feels right that we finish it out because he was so excited to do it.”
Polidore said “Beauty and the Beast” was chosen, in part, to help build back up the drama program, which she said “fell apart” during the COVID pandemic. It also was special to DeConno, and resonates with her own theatrical journey, too.
“We’re trying to choose big name shows that kids would recognize outside of musical theater, before we would do shows that maybe they hadn’t heard of before,” Polidore said. “We landed on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ because Chris said that it was one of his favorite shows ever, [and] it was the first show that I was ever in when I was seven so it feels like a full-circle moment.”
The hopes related to picking “Beauty and the Beast” were realized as the production has 39 students from the junior-senior high school involved between cast and stage crew. Polidore is proud of each and every one of them.
“The kids are doing such an amazing job, especially considering the circumstances that we started doing this under,” Polidore said. “I would say, easily half of the students involved have never been in a musical before, some of them have never been on stage before. They’re doing a very brave thing. One, to get up on stage and do this show in front of family and friends, and two, to go on and do it after going through something so traumatic together. If anything, I think it brought the kids and me closer together.”
The cast includes a lot of high school seniors, whose high school experience was interrupted by COVID, Polidore said. So, she is encouraging the community to come out and give the graduating group a grand finale.
“This group is very special to me, I’ve known them since they were in ninth grade,” Polidore said. “And I watched them go through high school. All of the kids deserve a really big audience, but I think that the seniors especially deserve to go out with a bang since their high school experience was kind of ruined for the first couple of years.”
Performances will be Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Johnstown Performing Arts Center at Johnstown Junior-Senior High School.
Tickets for the show are $10, and can be purchased at the door, or in advance online.