Roberta Jones Junior Theatre’s Graduating Seniors Are Headed to Their “Great Wide Somewhere”

Story and Photos by Cynthia Cheng

Tickets are sold out for Roberta Jones Junior Theatre’s (www.RJJT.org) “Beauty and the Beast,” that runs until April 15 at the Mission City Center for Performing Arts. At the April 5 dress rehearsal, about 65 talented young performers from ages 8 to 18 shone brightly in this enchanting musical.

“This is the show each year that is our largest scale production,” said Kevin Cornelius, Recreation Supervisor for the Santa Clara City Parks and Recreation Department.  “We’re having flying effects provided by a company named Flying by Foy. We also have an orchestra with conductor Patrick Day in our orchestra pit playing live music accompaniment.”

In “Beauty and the Beast,” a Prince who had been transformed into a Beast through a punitive spell found redemption when he learned to love another and was loved back.


For Michael Kennedy, 17; Carley LaPlaca, 17; Nina Lehr, 17; and Kelly Cella, 18, this show will be their final RJJT production. Holding on to cherished memories of RJJT, these four will soon head off to their own “great wide somewhere” in college.

“I’ve been in over 20 shows with RJJT; my first RJJT show was when I was seven,” said Kennedy, who played the Beast. “The greatest benefit to me being in RJJT was to be more open around people and to be less shy. Over the years, I’ve made really great friendships here and this helped me make friends at school with other people. It has helped me speak in front of a crowd.”

Kennedy recalled being frightened of the Beast when, at five years old, he saw “Beauty and the Beast” in a RJJT production.

“Now that I have a chance to play that character, I’m thinking of the little kids seeing the show,” Kennedy said. “That has helped me get into character, to be the best Beast I can be even though he has a rough personality and a scary nature.”

Kennedy revealed a sensitive side to the Beast when he sang with heartache, “If I Can’t Love Her.” In the fall, Kennedy will attend college in Minnesota to study business.

LaPlaca depicted Belle, the Beast’s love interest, as a strong-willed heroine. LaPlaca’s voice rang clear while singing the wistful “Is This Home?” in spite of her character’s visible grief.

“I got a lot of one-on-one time with my directors who helped me bring out my role and make my version of Belle really special,” said LaPlaca, who will be attending Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon to study environmental science. “I’ve been in around 35 RJJT productions. I’ve been in every single production since I was six years old. RJJT has taught me to be responsible. It’s such a time commitment. I’ve also learned a lot about how to express myself.”

In her second RJJT production, Lehr launched this show as the snooty Young Prince. Currently deciding between two colleges, Lehr intends to study communications and journalism.

“I’ve been able to make a lot of friends,” Lehr said of her time in RJJT.

Cella showed her comedic side as a boy-crazy Silly Girl who crushed on Gaston. “Beauty and the Beast” is Cella’s 15th RJJT production.

“I was part of a community and I never felt alone,” said Cella of her experience in RJJT. “I also got to learn a lot about responsibility and taking on other things. I got to be on makeup crew and cast paging. For college, I’m attending AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy) in New York City. I will be majoring in acting.”