DeKALB – Residents looking for a high-quality, Broadway-style production this weekend need to look no further than the DeKalb High School Auditorium.
For the third year in a row, the Penguin Project will bring a classic story to life when it debuts its rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” tonight at 7 p.m. today in the DeKalb High School Auditorium.
As is the signature of all Penguin Project productions, children and young adults with developmental disabilities will take center stage, filling all roles from leads to ensemble. Those participants, known as artists, have worked with mentors of similar age who assist artists in learning songs, memorizing lines, perfecting dance routines and other aspects of the show.
Julie Breidenbach, music director, said some people might think the Penguin Project is only a “cute concept,” but it is much more, as all those involved have put in hard work during four months of rehearsals.
“[People] have no clue the caliber of performance they are going to see,” Breidenbach said. “These kids have some amazing talent. The [audience’s] minds will be blown and they’ll want to come back.”
Breidenbach’s confidence in the show stems from the talent and hard work displayed by performers like Jacob Morton.
Morton, a senior at Genoa-Kingston High School, stepped into the lead role of Beast despite stepping onto the stage for the first time this year. Morton, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has had no trouble finding the growl and ferocity needed to portray Beast. If anything, he said he sometimes needs to tone it down.
“I just saw the movie, and I get spoiled by the movie because I expect the show to be the same standard,” Morton said. “The hardest part is finding that growl without going too much.”
The drive for perfection is shared by veteran Penguin Project performer Haley Tyrrell who steps into the role of Belle. Though she has had some major roles, Tyrrell said there have been some new challenges in her first lead, including memorizing the most lines in her career.
There are of course other obstacles Tyrrell continues to conquer on stage.
“The side stairs have been scary,” said Tyrrell, who has been blind since birth. “I have to hold on to Jacob for dear life.”
Both Morton and Tyrrell credit their mentors for preparing them to take on the lead roles and keeping them calm during stressful and nervous times. But Brittany Watne, Morton’s mentor, said that help is a two-way street.
Watne, a student at Waubonsee Community College, said getting involved with the Penguin Project is a blessing, as it combines two of her passions in theater and helping people with special needs.
“You learn so much from all of them,” she said of the artists. “You can’t help but become friends.”
Mickey Marbutt sees firsthand the positive changes the project has on both artists and mentors. One of his sons is performing in the play as the talking clock, while his other son is serving as a mentor. He said his “artist” is more outgoing and confident while his “mentor” has a new perspective on people with disabilities.
Joe King, Penguin Project coordinator, said it is these transformations and the relationships that develop between mentors and artists that create a performance unlike any other.
“Magic happens in that room ... there is a certain energy,” King said. “Perhaps you have seen ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ but you’ve never seen a show like this.”
The Penguin Project cast will perform show starting tonight at 7 p.m. and again at the same time Friday and Saturday. There will also be a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. All shows are at the DeKalb High School Auditorium.
Tickets can be purchased at the door, online at cctonstage.com or by telephone at 815-200-4747. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and free for children 2 and younger.