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Tale as old as time: RHS alum directs Shoal’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’

The musical “Beauty and the Beast” began this past weekend at the Shoals Theatre in Florence as part of The Gingerbread Players productions – and the nearby show has a Russellville tie.

This lovely musical is based on the Disney classic featuring a beautiful bookworm, Belle, who takes the place of her imprisoned father in the castle of a beast, who is really a cursed prince. Belle teaches the beast to be courteous and respectful, and of course, they fall in love. This year is the 25th anniversary of the opening of the musical on Broadway in New York City.

The production actually has several Franklin County ties. For one, the show is directed by Jennifer Steen Kilpatrick, a 1992 graduate of Russellville High School. Additionally, one of the lead roles, the Beast, is played by rising RHS junior Avery Guinn.

Kilpatrick, who teaches Theatre and Television Production at Florence High School, has been directing community theatre for 15 years. Her resume includes “The Little Mermaid,” “Shrek the Musical,” “Enchanted,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Hairspray,” “Aladdin,” “101 Dalmatians” and “The Aristocrats,” among others. “Obviously I love Disney shows,” said Kilpatrick, who also acts in some of the shows.

Kilpatrick, who has three children of her own – Kyndal, 13, and twins Logan and Landri, 10, said children inspire her work.

“I am inspired by the children and the children-at-heart who come to see the show,” she explained. “The theatre should be a place where magic comes alive and people can escape from the stresses of life. It is fun working with our team to create the magic. When we hear the reactions from the audience and see the smiling faces, it makes all the long hours worth it.”

All three of her children are in “Beauty and the Beast.” Landri, who has also spent the past three summers playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker at Ivy Green, plays Chip the teacup in the show.

Kilpatrick said many people don’t realize the amount of planning and work that goes into putting a production like a Disney show together. She received the script in January, held auditions in March and announced the cast, and in April, cast members began to work on learning all the music.

In May, work began on the choreography and blocking to put everything on stage.

The last few weeks leading up to opening night were spent working late into the night painting the sets and pulling together props and costumes.

“It is just repeat, repeat, repeat to make everything look great for our audiences,” said Kilpatrick. “It is definitely a labor of love. I work with an amazing team, and we become like family.”

Gail Allen is assistant director. Joey Wright is music director. Keri Ann Payne is choreographer.  “It takes a village,” Kilpatrick said, “to make a production like this work.”

Other Russellville High School graduates involved in the production are Kayla McKinney, scenic artist and props designer, RHS Class of 2005; Gwendolyn Wilson, one of the “silly girls” who swoons over Gaston, RHS 2014; and Dylan Bales, ensemble and stage work, RHS Class of 2015.

Final shows are June 21 and June 22 at 7 p.m. each night. Order advance tickets by going to or purchase at the box office.