Performers from the Quest ExpandEd program at P.S. 182, Samantha Smith Elementary School, took the stage last month with a production of “Beauty & the Beast, Jr.,” an outstanding adaptation of Disney’s beloved “tale as old as time.”
ExpandEd’s annual musical productions are a favorite of the P.S. 182 and Jamaica community, as well as The Child Center family: Shows historically play to a packed theater, and this year’s performance was no exception. What shouldn’t go unnoticed, though, is the enormous amount of effort that takes place behind the scenes — for almost the entirety of the school year.
Work began late last September for the production team, which ultimately comprised more than 100 participants ranging in age from eight to 11. Drama instructor Anne Marie Cahill and vocal instructor Edvin Rustrian led a team that included 28 actors and actresses; 60 set design crew members, who created all the scenery, props, and costumes; and nine stage crew members in charge of lighting, curtains, microphones, etc. There were also 28 “literary scholars,” who wrote and produced the Playbill. “It’s Broadway quality,” said ExpandEd 182 site director Jennette Lotrean. “The kids wrote their own bios; I worked on editing; and Andrea, our office manager, worked on the formatting of it.” The Playbill also credits a third producer alongside Cahill and Rustrian, group leader Gianna Moncayo, who has worked with Quest for three years. “This experience has been one of a kind and has helped me reach my [own] maximum potential,” said Moncayo.
It’s clear that — for all involved — the many months of hard work and dedication paid dividends on opening night, May 12, as the stage came alive with themes of tolerance and transformation. “Once the curtains parted, and the P.S. 182 stage was transformed into the magical world of Beauty and The Beast, I took a moment to draw my eyes away to briefly peer at the faces filled with amazement in the audience,” said Lotrean.
By all accounts, such magical moments were common as students belted their hearts out to B&B classics composed by the legendary Alan Menken — all the crowd favorites from “Belle” to the show-stopping number, “Be Our Guest,” to “Something There.”
Prior to opening night, the group performed an excerpt from their show at The Child Center of NY’s annual spring gala — apropos, given that Alan Menken was the evening’s special honoree. ExpandEd’s performance was “the talk of the gala,” said The Child Center’s chief executive officer, Traci Donnelly, about the event, which took place on May 9 at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers.
After the full performances several days later, Lotrean said, “I am honored to be a part of such an amazing team. I want to commend the many hands that were a part of making this experience a success.”
Ms. Lotrean’s shout-outs include: “Ms. Cahill and Mr. Rustrian for supporting our kids’ growth throughout the year and for showing them that there’s no goal too high; Ms. Negron for her commitment to leading the set design and her endless hours and days where she worked tirelessly with the kids on the artwork, Ms. Rubin for her creativity and support in props and set design with her groups; Ms. Shannon and her kids for creating the invention that Maurice proudly rolled onto the stage; and to the amazing group leaders who were there every step of the way, Ms. Gianna, Ms. Nadia, and Ms. Chelsea.” Special thanks also goes to “Ms. Andrea for formatting the Playbill and for making 200 plus copies (which we ran out of!). And to Ms. Qiana for always supporting me in the office no matter what we’re facing.”
Patricia Mizilio, who is the school’s social worker, praised the amazing teamwork that went into the performance, as well as shows in the past. “This experience stays with our students for their lifetime, reminding them of their capabilities and strengths,” Mizilio explained. “Friday evening, after the show, I met with a former student who had taken part in previous shows. She was discussing some hardships she was having—she was feeling depleted. When I encouraged reflection upon her strengths, she recalled the times when she was in Quest shows. She said that she brings up those memories every time she is having a difficult moment. Her memories of Quest keep her feeling strong and confident. Thank you to all, for maintaining the strength in our students. This is priceless.”
DVDs of the full performance are available for purchase for $5. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase a copy. All proceeds benefit the Quest ExpandEd 182 program.