JANESVILLE—Director Jim Tropp tries to avoid directing big Disney musicals.
“They’re so much. They’re so big,” he said.
Yet, for eight performances this April, Tropp and his crew will put on “Beauty and Beast” at Parker High School.
And Tropp couldn’t be more excited.
“It’s going to wonderful,” he said. “People are going to love it.”
But that’s what he always says—probably because it’s true.
“Beauty and the Beast” marks the 100th musical of Tropp’s 30-year theater career. For the last 15 of those 30 years, he’s been directing high school students in productions that have routinely sold out.
With their high production values and outstanding acting and singing, Tropp’s shows draw an audience that stretches beyond doting parents. Last year’s performance of “White Christmas” sold out, and that wasn’t the only Tropp show to earn that distinction.
So what makes those shows so successful, and how does he stay so engaged?
“What keeps me in it is my staff,” Tropp said.
His “staff” includes musical director Jan Knutson, choreographer Michael Stanek, lighting director Bob Mentele, costumer Amber Hayes, make-up and hair artist Jessica Hansen and sound technician Mike Schuler.
“They all know exactly what to do,” Tropp said.
The Monday after Easter was scheduled to be the cast’s first day on stage, and Tropp’s crew make sure things went as planned.
“They adjusted all the set pieces so we would be ready to go,” Tropp said. “You know, people say I’m a good director, but I really believe you are only as great as the people around you.”
What about the kids? Have they changed in 15 years?
“Kids are a lot smarter than people give them credit for,” Tropp said. “And they have a lot of drive. You should see them in dance rehearsal. They want to be the best.”
Today’s kids do tend to get bored more easily, he said. His solution? Give them more of a challenge to keep them engaged.
That has led to higher standards in the local theater program.
“When students get to Parker’s program, they know what level of theater to expect,” Tropp said.
On the Monday after Easter, Tropp was putting students through their paces in front of unpainted pieces of set. He suggested Babette, the animated feather duster, flirt just a little more with old Maurice, Belle’s father. He advised Lumière, the quintessentially French maître d’, to ponder the name of Veronique with more seductive thoughtfulness.
Tropp also wanted exactly the right placement for Maurice when he delivered his lines, so he kept on moving him until his positioning was just right.
Two girls, Emily Newmark and Addison Schuh, will play the lead role of Belle. Both also will be part of a special “Breakfast with Belle” for young children, and the two also played the roles of Judy and Betty Haynes in Parker’s production of “White Christmas.”
JP Skalecki, who played General Henry Wavery in “White Chirstmas,” is returning as Maurice.
Other students returning from “White Christmas” include Sam Murdy as Gaston, Michael Rick as LeFou and Hunter Olson as the beast.
The performance will include some flying, but Tropp didn’t want to give too much away.
“We’re doing it right,” he said.
“People are going to love this show,” Tropp added. “It’s what the audiences get out it that I love, too.”