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Teacher named ‘Best Director’

Andrew Leyba, playing Beast, and Chloe Brownell, playing Belle, both just right of center, perform on stage at Rio Rancho High School during the “Beauty and the Beast” musical this spring. Courtesy photo.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Rio Rancho High School’s drama teacher, Gael Natal, earned the title of Best Director for her work on the production “Beauty and the Beast” at Popejoy Hall’s Enchantment Awards on April 4.

“I am really thankful to receive such a wonderful honor. I am also so thankful for the community that supports high school theatre in Rio Rancho,” Natal said.

“One of the best things about directing is having all these creative ideas and visions for how you want the show to look and go,” she said. “To see it actually happen in front of an audience is a wonderful feeling. When they buy into it and love it like you do it, it is very gratifying.”

Every year RRHS creates a spring musical production. The Enchantment Awards, the equivalent of state competition for musical theater, recognize young actors’ work, and put nominees’ talent front and center by allowing them to perform live at the award show, according to the Enchantment Awards website.

This year’s production received 10 nominations, including being one of six musicals nominated in the production category, which recognizes outstanding production, direction and ensembles, according to Rio Rancho Public Schools’ website.

This is the Enchantment Awards’ fourth year and RRHS’s third time being nominated as one of the top musical productions in the state. Although they were defeated this year, RRHS previously won the Best Production award for “Big Fish” and “All Shook Up.”

Wanting to bring the story of “Beauty and the Beast” to life on stage, the theater department hired Flying by Foy, an internationally renowned flying company, to install and train students on how to use a flying rig. The flying system was used five times during the production, including when the Beast transformed to a human at the end of the play.

Natal said the department’s motto is, “Go big or go home.”

“A professional flyer came out for three days and trained the students how to use the equipment,” she said. “The fly rigging required two people per lift, and it was run by our students. Since we are a school, I love expanding our skills and knowledge for each production.”

The musical also earned nine acting nominations — four for supporting actor and five for lead actor.

During the award show, the five Rio Rancho students nominated for best lead actor/actress performed a solo number of their choice and an ensemble number of the character they portrayed, according to RRPS’ website.

Rio Rancho’s nominees for Best Actor/Actress were: Hailey Allman, for her performance as Mrs. Potts; Chloe Montoya for her role as Belle; Jackson Murrieta, who played Lumiere; Mary Rivera, who also played Mrs. Potts in the opening night and matinée performances; and Walker Sikkens, for his role as the Beast. This was Sikkens’ third year being nominated for Enchantment Awards.

Best Supporting Actor nominations at RRHS went to Johnathan Giese and Jonathan Salazar, who alternated as the evil Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, and to Christopher Tye and Jaden Musick, who alternated as the castle’s major-domo-turned-mantel-clock Cogsworth.

Natal said she tries to pick productions she knows a lot of people will enjoy.

“I always know what the shows are about a year ahead of time,” she said. “I pick something that I get excited about and that I think the community will enjoy. I like to do a big family show every few years — we’ve done ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Shrek’ in the past. I knew that we would get a lot of support from the community if we produced a show as wonderful and family-friendly as ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ It is one of my favorite stories from my childhood, so I was excited to attempt to bring it to life on the stage.”

Natal said she has begun preparation on next year’s musical, “Freaky Friday,” and is working on new, exciting things to incorporate.