Jewes­son the Belle of the ball

The Prince George Citizen - - LOCAL - Frank PEEBLES Cit­i­zen staff fpee­[email protected]­i­t­i­zen.ca

Belle is one of the most cov­eted roles in show biz.

Emma Wat­son went from Harry Pot­ter fran­chisee to full Hol­ly­wood su­per­star with her re­cent turn as the Beauty & The Beast lead char­ac­ter. When Emma Stone was in­ter­viewed at the Os­car Awards fol­low­ing Stone’s win for the film La La Land, Stone said of Wat­son (who was linked first to the La La Land role) “She’s the coolest. She’s Belle,” said an ad­mir­ing Stone.

Other stars of stage and screen who have held ver­sions of Belle in their hands in­clude Josette Day, Rebecca De Mor­nay, Vanessa Hud­gens, Su­san Saran­don, Amy Irv­ing, Su­san Egan, Paige O’Hara, and Linda Hamil­ton.

Prince Ge­orge now has its own Belle for the sum­mer of 2019 and di­rec­tor Judy Rus­sell feels she’s “the coolest” in the lo­cal con­text. Kelsey Jewes­son (nee Wheatley) is the mu­si­cal the­atre star in­hab­it­ing the piv­otal role of the cu­ri­ous, self-ed­u­cat­ing vil­lage maiden who uses logic and rea­son to think be­yond the con­fines of her me­dieval so­cial con­stric­tions, then turns to her wit and de­ter­mi­na­tion again to sur­vive be­ing im­pris­oned by a bit­ter, in­dig­nant man-beast at his cas­tle deep in the woods.

“It’s like a dream role,” said Jewes­son, who has had her fair share of plum char­ac­ters.

“You grow up watch­ing Dis­ney, so you grow up iden­ti­fy­ing with Dis­ney princesses. For me, it was al­ways Belle. Maybe it was brown hair like mine, I don’t know, but she was the one who most held my at­ten­tion. She al­ways seemed much more con­tem­po­rary, ed­u­ca­tion and learn­ing were the most im­por­tant things for her, it was never about need­ing a prince, so I grav­i­tated to Belle. If I could pick any Dis­ney princess, it would be Belle ev­ery time.”

Rus­sell picked her be­cause of those same in­nate val­ues. Af­ter ris­ing to the spot­light in lo­cal pro­duc­tions of Nun­sense, Nun­sense 2, Hello Dolly and a star turn in the role of Epo­nine in Les Mis­er­ables, Jewes­son made off for big­ger stages in mu­si­cal the­atre school first at Camo­sun Col­lege and then the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria where she ex­celled in her voice pur­suits, win­ning both the Vic­to­ria Medal (for the high­est GPA in the Fac­ulty of Fine Arts) and the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s Sil­ver Medal (UVic’s top over­all un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent).

Like Belle, one of Jewes­son’s pri­mary char­ac­ter­is­tics is a de­vo­tion to fam­ily. That brought her back to Prince Ge­orge with her hus­band Chris and their baby daugh­ter El­iz­a­beth, where she was wel­comed back into the mu­si­cal the­atre fold with, well, Belles on.

“I hadn’t talked to Judy about be­ing cast in any par­tic­u­lar roles. I had one thing only on my mind and that was be­ing a mom,” she said, and let pro­duc­tions of Legally Blonde and Cabaret slide by with­out au­di­tion­ing.

The tim­ing was right, though, when Beauty & The Beast came up. Jewes­son is now blended into a mix of singers and dancers and ac­tors who, she knew from see­ing the most re­cent Judy Rus­sell block­busters as an au­di­ence mem­ber, were high cal­iber per­form­ers from dun­geon to tower.

“Com­mu­nity the­atre in­volves ev­ery­one. That’s what’s so spe­cial about it,” Jewes­son said. “The cast, the crew, the au­di­ence, it is all of us, it is all Prince Ge­orge, and we are do­ing it for each other and the love of the arts. It is a whole­some and holis­tic cre­ation. I know the au­di­ence is go­ing to get such joy from watch­ing it, be­cause we are get­ting such joy from pre­par­ing it.”

To come back into her home com­mu­nity (Jewes­son shares her home­town sta­tus with Prince Ge­orge and Smithers, with some fam­ily con­nec­tion to Fort St. James as well) means re­con­nect­ing with peo­ple she has worked with be­fore, and in many cases were chil­dren when she left but have de­vel­oped into ca­pa­ble, ma­ture per­form­ers now.

Her favourite per­son on set, though, is a con­stant guid­ing light in her per­for­mance life. Alex Mur­ray is not only Judy Rus­sell’s father, he is also one of the city’s most in­vet­er­ate arts ac­tivists and sem­i­nal teach­ers of the per­form­ing arts. Jewes­son said his pres­ence at re­hearsals is part hon­orary but also part ne­ces­sity. She still leans on his con­struc­tive crit­i­cisms, even at this stage of her ca­reer.

She is also well aware that young eyes are fixed upon her, not only as Belle but also as some­one who has been pro­fes­sion­ally schooled and had pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence in other cen­tres. As Mur­ray is open and invit­ing to her, she wants to be open and invit­ing to all the other cast mem­bers, be that among the other leads who can share their insights as peers, or for the chil­dren and as­pir­ing per­form­ers in the cho­rus who are just get­ting started on a path Jewes­son and her fel­low leads re­mem­ber all too well.

Ev­ery­one in the cast, she said, feels a debt of grat­i­tude to their di­rec­tor and pro­ducer, who has given them all the op­por­tu­nity to shine their tal­ents and hone their crafts. Whether they ever go off and be­come pros in Van­cou­ver, Toronto, Lon­don or New York is not the point for any of them in Beauty & The Beast, although lo­cal pro­tégés are in those places do­ing those things right now. The point, said Jewes­son, is to do good work for the ben­e­fit of their com­mu­nity.

“Judy is the queen of com­mu­nity the­atre, and hav­ing worked now with Pa­cific Opera and some other com­pa­nies, I can say with to­tal con­fi­dence that these shows she does, us­ing only lo­cal talent, are ab­so­lutely pro­fes­sional grade,” Jewes­son said. “It wasn’t al­ways that way, and you can still see some of the signs of am­a­teur talent in these lo­cal pro­duc­tions, but only lit­tle traces, and if you spend time watch­ing pro­fes­sional mu­si­cal the­atre in those other places, you’ll spot that in those sup­pos­edly su­pe­rior shows as well. No, Judy has reached a point, right here in PG, where the shows could pack up and sell the same tick­ets in those other cities, too. We just get to see it here, all ours.”

Beauty & The Beast runs from July 11 to 27, 15 per­for­mances in all.

Get tick­ets at all Cen­tral In­te­rior Tick­ets plat­forms.

CIT­I­ZEN PHOTO BY BRENT BRAATEN

Kelsey Jewes­son plays Belle in Judy Rus­sell’s pro­duc­tion of Beauty & the Beast.

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