Central Illinois children with a yen for theatre will have plenty of opportunity this summer to display their talent. And theatre connoisseurs can take their pick of several productions-beginning with two shows presented by well-known children’s theatre companies Community Children’s Theater and MAPKids.

Community Children’s Theater (CCT) of the Peoria Park District presents the musical The Enchantment of Beauty and the Beast July 8 to 11. This production features young performers age eight to 18 from all over the tri-county area. For some of the cast of 77, this will be their first experience on the stage, while other cast members are returning as veterans of CCT productions.

In addition to some veteran cast members, director Lisa Voyles also has experience with CCT, as well as directing for Woodrow Wilson School in Peoria, where she’s a third grade teacher. If you’re lucky, you may even catch her as a performer in local community theater.

In The Enchantment of Beauty and the Beast, a selfish prince rejects a powerful witch. After a curse is placed on him, he’s destined to be a "beast" until he learns to love. Years later, a poor widow plucks a forbidden rose. Though he sentences the woman to death, Beast allows her to say good-bye to her family.

At the widow’s farm, we meet her two distasteful daughters and greedy sons-in-law. The four of them hear her "insane" story and don’t believe her. But her third daughter, Beauty, goes to the Beast and promises to stay if her mother’s life is spared. Beast falls in love with Beauty. She’s like a princess to him. Unfortunately, the two sons-in-law slink into the eerie castle hoping to filch a treasure. In a hilarious and thrilling scene, not only is there a battle with the Beast, but also with the furniture, too. But could Beauty ever love Beast?

Principal characters are Brandon Chandler (Prince/ Beast), Katie Meyer (Beauty), Rebecca Maloney (Isabel), Ruby Lucero (Marguerite), and Lauren May (Madame Rondeau.) The princesses are played by: Stephanie Meyer, Janelle Riebholz, and Dominque Allison.

The production staff includes production coordinators Kathy Maloney and Laura Clark, musical accompaniment by Jerry Hyland, costuming by Patricia Reardon, set construction by Mike Waag, sound design by Mike Burke, production secretary and prop design by Kara Mead, stage management by Marc Daczewitz, and choreography by Brenda Waag.

Community Children’s Theater was founded in 1957 as a cooperative effort between the Peoria Park District and the community volunteers dedicated to providing a healthy experience in dramatics for the children of the Peoria area. Presently, CCT’s programming includes two musical play productions per year.

CCT’s summer production, The Enchantment of Beauty and the Beast, runs July 8 to 11 at Peoria Players Theatre; the July 11 show will be interpreted. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $6 for children and seniors. For more information, call 688-3667, ext. 266.

Rachel Weiman, a teacher at Parkview Junior High School in Creve Coeur, is the director of the upcoming 2004 MAPKids’ production, Those Magical Red Sneaks. The musical is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes. The book and lyrics were written by Jack Dyville, and music and additional lyrics were written by Lawrence Wankel.

The story revolves around a pair of magical red sneakers, which endow their wearer with magical dancing powers when activated by a particular remote control. Two homeless children, brother and sister Rocco and Ricki, enter into a plot to find a young girl and make her a dancer so Rocco can become her talent agent. Once the shoes are on Karen, an orphan, she’s under his control and is hidden away in a circus and forced to dance in the shows. Eventually, Ricki steals the remote and frees her. Of course, there are many other twists and turns in this play.

MAPKids is the founding purpose for the Morton Area Players. It provides the opportunity for young people to gain experience in the theatre, both on stage, via auditioning for the show, singing, and dancing, and behind the scenes, with set creation, costuming, props, lights, and sound. Open to youngsters age 10 through high school seniors, MAPKids is a summer recreation activity, with the Morton Park District as its major sponsor.

This year is the ninth MAPKids production and is a joint venture of the Artistic Community Theatre from Pekin and The Morton Area Players. The combined efforts of these two community theatre groups is undertaken with the hopes of increasing theatre availability for the people of Tazewell and Mason counties, as well as the greater Peoria area. These two groups provide the adult leadership, guidance, and encouragement for this rewarding activity for the area youth.

Attendance by young people to the MAPKids productions is a great way to introduce children to the theatre and to performing. Kids identify with people their own age more readily than watching older people perform. After a play, children have remarked: "They’re the same age I am" or "I can do that."

Those Magical Red Sneaks is presented at 7 p.m., July 9, 10, 16, and 17, and at 2:30 p.m., July 11, in the Bertha Frank Performing Arts Center in Morton. Tickets cost $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $5 for students. For more information, call 266-7604. AA!