Kaitlyn Yott and Sean Donnelly play the lead roles in Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s Beauty and the Beast

Panto role a thing of beauty

Young actress lands dream part as Belle in Christmas production

Kaitlyn Yott makes no bones about it:  Belle in Beauty and the Beast is a dream role for her.

“It was my favourite movie when I was a kid,” the recent Earl Marriott graduate said.

Although the Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society production in which she takes the female lead (Surrey Arts Centre until Dec. 4) is a decidedly different Christmas pantomime version of the tale popularized by the Disney cartoon, she’s still glad for the chance to portray a character she’s always looked up to.

“Belle isn’t the usual princess role,” she explained.

“She’s someone who sticks to her own values about life, and when she falls in love, she falls for what’s on the inside – not what’s on the outside.”

There’s a certain childish glee to being cast as Belle, too, she admits.

“When I tried on the yellow dress the first time that little five-year-old in me came out – ‘I’m a princess!’”

But it goes deeper than that. Yott, who loves to sing, is determined to pursue a career on the stage, and plans to audition for a post-secondary theatre program in the near future.

“I’d like to get a performance degree in musical theatre,” she said. “Being on stage is the greatest feeling in the world. Any time I’m performing, the voice in my head is telling me this is what I’m supposed to do.”

Before going into more formal training she’s getting as much experience as she can in as many genres as possible – which aside from the fun quotient, was one of her principal motives for auditioning for the FVGSS show.

“It’s my first time doing panto – a very different style of theatre in which you’re always interacting with the audience,” she said.

“Unlike other plays in which the script is everything, you’re encouraged to stray from it and play on the energy of the audience – it’s been a very enriching experience.”

She also gained very different experience in Smile, The Musical for Vancouver-based youth company Awkward Stage Productions.

“That was taking this ’80s musical flop and rebirthing it – and all the adult roles were represented by puppets, which we also operated.”

Pantomime or not, Beauty and the Beast, directed by FVGSS veteran Mike Balser, depends a lot on the chemistry between Belle and her hairy inamorata, and Yott says she’s glad to be working with co-star Sean Donnelly.

“He’s insanely talented and he’s got an amazing voice,” she said. “I feel like we’ve developed a lot of chemistry. It’s been very enjoyable – he’s a really great guy, which is good because we have to, essentially, fall in love on stage and he’s never made it weird.”

“I think it’s really clicking,” said Donnelly, son of famed anthem singer and musical educator Mark and brother of soprano Colleen who has, herself, contributed memorable performances to a number of  FVGSS shows (“When you come from my family, you pretty much have to know how to sing and read music,” he noted).

He said he is enjoying working with Yott too.

“We come from really different backgrounds, as far as performance styles,” he said. “It’s been interesting playing to each other’s strengths and seeing how that developed.”

For someone raised on ‘liturgical polyphony’ – he’s also a member of an eight-voice choir devoted to lesser known works of Renaissance composer Pierluigi da Palestrina – it’s been a stretch working with ’70s and ’80s pop songs like Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again, Naturally and The Time Of My Life (from Dirty Dancing), he admitted.

“I also get to dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” he added.

If things had gone according to the original plan, Donnelly, also a talented hockey goalie, would be on the ice rather than the stage this winter.

But Donnelly, who completed a first year at Williams College in Massachusetts on a hockey scholarship, has decided to take a time-out for a year to re-evaluate the direction of his post-secondary studies.

“It was really a last minute decision to audition,” he said.

“I’d just decided I wasn’t going back to school when I was talking to a friend in FVGSS – he said if I was going to be in town, I should audition.”

Evening performances of Beauty and the Beast are at 7:30 p.m. with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For tickets, visit https://tickets.surrey.ca or call the Surrey Arts Centre box office at 604-501-5566.

 

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