Young director produces show with special needs cast

The cast of “Beauty and the Beast” join for a picture just prior to Friday’s performance.

EAST MARLBOROUGH >> A recent Unionville High School graduate who has been enthralled with theater for most of her life, last week presented her second show with a cast of special needs individuals.

Coming off the successful presentation of ”Seussical Jr.” last year, Karalyn Joseph produced “Beauty and the Beast” at Willowdale Chapel with members of the Community of Actors with Special Needs in Theatre (CAST). According to the group’s mission statement, it is a “community for people with special needs to give them an opportunity to learn, to shine and to recognize their talents with the applause they deserve.”

The show took place in the church’s large auditorium — a move up from last year’s event in the smaller theater because it was so popular it needed a larger capacity.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday several hundred guests witnessed and gave standing ovations to the almost flawless production whose cast consisted of those who had special needs with others who did not (“buddies). For many in the cast it was a chance to showcase their talents and creativity that are often masked by disabilities like autism and Down Syndrome.

In the course of the show, the songs, dances and dialogue appeared unchanged from any other mainstream production. Joseph said many members she worked with not only remembered all their lines but almost felt compelled to do them exactly.

Additionally, the ensemble and dance numbers came off without a hitch.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a musical based on the story of a prince who was turned into a beast because of his lack of love and compassion. His friends and associates were likewise turned into kitchen implements and appliances until the spell was broken then the beast and the female lead fell in love.

Joseph, 18, graduated from Unionville High School in June and is headed for Harvard, where she plans a two-and-a-half major in cognitive neuroscience, theater and music with an intended career path to drama and music therapy. In the course of her young life she has participated in six of her high school’s choirs and sung in district, regional all-state and all-national choirs along with directing three a cappella group. She has also worked with both professional and community theaters and trained in dance for 15 years and in voice for six.

With a $3,000 grant she received from Willowdale Chapel for equipment, she enjoyed quite a bit of volunteer help for “Beauty and the Beast” from choreographer Lisa Replogle, music director Karen Markey, stage manager Sydney Lau and many more.

In her credo appearing in the program, Joseph said her inspiration came from a teenager whom she performed with whose ability to connect and communicate with others “improved beyond belief as he gained confidence in performing.”

“In February I volunteered for Willowdale’s ‘Night to Shine’ Prom for people with special needs and was stationed in the karaoke room. I was astounded not only by the talent of the guests, but their enjoyment and enthusiasm when on stage or even cheering for friends,” she said.

She added that it got her thinking about a full theatrical production.

By and large the members of CAST are over 16 years old but “The Beast is 14,” she said. Many of them participate in Willowdale Chapel’s special needs ministry. The cast of “Beauty and the Beast” began in late June.

“It has been such a joyful experience and honor to work with such dedicated, enthusiastic and talented actors,” she said.

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