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Eastchester High To Stage 'Beauty and the Beast'

EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – In one of his most ambitious theatrical offerings ever at Eastchester High School, the Players Club and an 80-member cast and production crew will present "Beauty and the Beast."

Three performances of the spring musical will be held this weekend at the high school auditorium. Longtime director John Gwardyak and his wife, assistant director/choreographer Karen Zasmbelli-Gwardyak, are leading the effort.

"When Karen and I decided to announce Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast' as the spring musical, we had no idea of huge it was," the director wrote in the program notes. "It is the hardest show ever."

Gwardyak should know. This is his 19th year at Eastchester High, where he does two shows a year. He also works with other theater companies, and said he has done "hundreds and hundreds" of productions.

"I always pick shows for the ensemble," he said during Wednesday's dress rehearsal between shouts to correct technical glitches. "There are more kids in the ensemble than anyone else. If they are having fun, the show is going to be fun."

For this show, he got a little extra help. Disney Studios CEO Rich Ross, an Eastchester High graduate, joined in an "unprecedented" outpouring of donations. He also hired a 10-piece professional orchestra; professional makeup artists Diane Preston and Terri Colette; motion pictures and TV veteran Archie Ciotti to build the set; and "Project Runway" contestants Jesus and Antonio Estrada to design and build Belle's ballgown.

The special flying effects are by ZFX Inc., currently in charge of "Wicked" and "Mary Poppins" on Broadway.

A special guest will come to a performance. Shirley Gershman, mother of Howard Asher, who wrote music and lyrics for "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid," lives in the community and will attend the show.

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door. They have stopped taking phone reservations. All three performances are expected to sell out.

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