A scene from Beauty and the Beast.Eric Fish of Lake Benton as Lumiere, Tom Schmitt of Porter as Cogsworth, Becky Peterson of Ruthton as Mrs. Potts.

Several locals help in 'Beauty and the Beast'

Several local performers are among the 60 cast and crew members currently rehearsing for the upcoming musical “Beauty and the Beast” at the Lake Benton Opera House.
 Sonya Karels of Minneota, Chesney (Pederson) Panka of Minneota, Liz Voit of Ghent, and Peter Engels and Ben Engels of Ivanhoe will all be participating in the musical in some capacity.
 There will be 10 performances of the musical between July 27 and Aug. 6, including two performances on Aug. 5.
Karels, a 2010 Minneota graduate, is the choreographer for this year’s musical.
 “My degree is in Musical Theatre performance from The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. “And right now that is what I’m pursuing,” said Karels, who is getting married to Brett LaTorre on Aug. 19.
 “I love to choreograph. Listening to the music and creating something out of thin air is such an amazing feeling. I love to create.”
“And I love watching everything come together. Seeing the struggles and the mistakes at the beginning and then watching the finished product makes you feel so proud and accomplished.”
 Karels has been in every play and musicals in high school since her freshman year. She also choreographed all the musicals during her sophomore, junior and senior years.
 “Performing is my passion. It's something that I've always loved since I can remember,” said Karels. “I started dancing when I was three and started doing shows not long after.”
 Karels’ first play she performed in at the Lake Benton Opera House was "Chicago" in 2010, followed by "Camelot" in 2011, and "Oliver" in 2013. She has been choreographing there since 2011, including  "Camelot", "Seussical"  in 2012, "Oliver" in 2013, "The Wizard of Oz" in 2014, "Fiddler on the Roof" in 2015, "Urinetown" (as an assistant) in 2016, "A Christmas Carol" in 2016, and now "Beauty and the Beast".
 “There is this feeling you get when you are up (on stage) that is like no other. The adrenaline you get right before you go out on stage for the first time, the sense of accomplishment and gratitude from the laughter and reactions from the audience; it's all just a euphoric feeling.”
 Panka is a part of the chorus ensemble playing the “Lady with Babies”. This will be the sixth show she has performed in at the Opera House, following “Chicago”, “Seussical”, “Oliver”, “Wizard of Oz”, and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
 “I love that each show is a little different and the feedback you get from a live audience,” said Panka. “There's something so special about being able to share something I'm so passionate about with others. I enjoy bringing other people's favorite shows to life.”
Panka, also a 2010 Minneota graduate, performed on stage in several school musicals and one play from seventh to 12th grade.
Panka, who currently is occupied part time in the accounting office at HyVee in Marshall, is married to Scott Panka. The have one son, Colton.
 Voit, who will be a sophomore at Minneota this fall, is in the chorus as one Gaston’s fan girls, and also plays a plate.
She has previously performed in “Oliver” and “Urinetown” at the Opera House. She has also been in several high school plays and musicals.
“I get a spark of happiness when I’m on stage,” Voit said. “I get taken away from reality and get teleported to a different world. It is like reading a book.”
Peter Engels, who graduated this past spring from Minneota, and his brother Ben, who will be a freshman, have both been in five plays at the Opera House, and have also each been in many other plays in school and other stages.
“We’ve also done a number of other things at the Opera House and elsewhere,” said Peter. “From participating in talent contests, performing Broadway songs, and singing Christmas carols.”
The siblings will be members of the chorus.
Director Mark Wilmes said there have been a number of performers over the years from the Minneota and Ghent area.
“We've had a steady stream of participants from Minneota over the years,” he said. “Since Nicole (Stiklestad) Marschall played the lead in ‘Oklahoma!’ back in 1998, we've had good Minneota participation nearly every year.”
“Beauty and the Beast” will mark the 41st play that Wilmes will have directed, including 26 musicals. Wilmes, the editor of the Tyler Tribute, is also the president, marketing coordinator, grant writer and producer at the Opera House.
“Back in the early 90s, a co-worker named Terri Lovre was the piano accompanist for the Opera House,” said Wilmes. “She talked me into coming down and trying out for a play in 1992, ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’.  I was skeptical that it would be something that I would enjoy, but decided to give it a shot.”
“I got a small part and enjoyed myself thoroughly. This is my 26th consecutive summer I’ve spent in the Opera House.”
“The Beauty and the Beast” musical will consists of 50 performers, plus another 10 people behind the scenes with the crew and musicians.
“We have an extremely experienced and talented cast this year,” Wilmes said. “It has been a great group to direct. I handed them scripts and watched them create their characters.”
By opening night on July 27, the cast will have had 36 rehearsals.
“Generally, at least part of the cast is rehearsing five nights a week,” said Wilmes. “We don't rehearse on Fridays or Saturdays.”
The 122-year-old Lake Benton Opera House puts on three plays and two musical productions each year, as well as Children’s Theatre each November.
“I love the Opera House. I love working with Mark and all of the people there,” said Karels. “It really feels like home when I walk in the door. It's always such a happy, busy environment.”
“I love coming to rehearsals and shows and seeing the people who have become my family,” said Panka. “The summers are always shorter than I would prefer, but I enjoy the time we get to spend together.”
“The Opera House is great because all sorts of people congregate here,” said Peter Engels. “Liberals, conservatives, singers, actors, technically gifted individuals, and many more from all sorts of walks of life.”
“Beauty and the Beast” is a musical adaptation from Walt Disney Pictures' Academy Award-winning 1991 animated musical film of the same name. “Beauty and the Beast” tells the story of a cold-hearted prince who has been magically transformed into an unsightly creature as punishment for his selfish ways.
To revert back into his human form, the Beast must first earn the love of a bright and beautiful young woman whom he has imprisoned in his enchanted castle before it's too late.
Emilirose Rasmusson of Ivanhoe will be playing the part of Belle, while Taylor Hoick is playing the Beast.

Minneota graduate and "Beauty and the Beast" choreographer Sonya Karels.

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