Beauty & the Beast Jr. at the Brunner Theatre Center -- February 23 through March 4.

Friday, February 23, through Sunday, March 4

Augustana College's Brunner Theatre Center, 3750 Seventh Avenue, Rock Island IL

For the second year in a row, the Center for Living Arts, the Penguin Project of the Quad Cities, and Augustana College's theatre department are teaming up to help turn kids into stage stars, which they'll do in the February 23 through March 4 Brunner Theatre Center run of Beauty & the Beast Jr. – a production that boasts a cast composed entirely of talented youths with special needs.

A one-act version of the Tony-winning Disney musical, which was itself adapted from the animated-movie smash that won two Academy Awards, Beauty & the Beast Jr. tells the timeless tale of an imprisoned girl and a prince until an evil spell who slowly but surely fall in love. But in Augustana's presentation, Belle, Beast, and all of the other familiar Disney characters – including the candlestick Lumière, the clock Cogsworth, the teacup Chip, and the villainous Gaston – are portrayed by young artists with developmental disabilities. They are joined on-stage by a peer mentors who have volunteered to work side by side with the youths through rehearsals and the final performances, resulting in an inspiring, magical theatrical experience for students and audiences alike.

The Penguin Project – designed to provide children with special needs with creative skills related to theatre arts – has evolved into a national program, with replication sites throughout the United States. The program provides a supporting environment for children with disabilities to explore their creative talents, and has demonstrated that participation in the performing arts has therapeutic value by enhancing social interacting, communication skills, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Founded by Dr. Andrew Morgan in Peoria, Illinois, in 2003, the Penguin Project is a national non-profit organization with the vision of creating unrestricted access for children with special needs to the performing arts. This is accomplished with the assistance of multiple replications across the U.S. that produce modified versions of well-known Broadway musicals.

This year's Penguin Project co-production of Beauty & the Beast Jr. is being directed by the Center for Living Arts' Dino Hayz, who also helmed last year's Annie Jr. Reader theatre reviewer called the production one of his favorites of 2017, and wrote, “Witnessing the magic when young performers with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities are encouraged and able to perform on-stage like any other other young artists satisfied my soul in ways I cannot adequately describe.”

Beauty & the Beast Jr. will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. on Sundays, tickets are $12, and more information and reservations arev available by calling (309)794-7306 or visiting Augustana.edu or CenterForLivingArts.org.

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