Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Brendan Lemon


"Beauty and the Beast" has two fantastic young actors sharing the part of Chip: Jeremiah Frank Burch III and Reese Sebastian Diaz. If I focus on Reese in this posting it's only because when I met the boys backstage the other evening, in Waterbury, Connecticut, Jeremiah was getting ready to go on, and I didn't want to distract him too much. I must say, however, that he is super-talented, and anyone who wants to follow him on the tour and in his career can go to Facebook and type in Jeremiah Frank Burch III. He and his mom, Kory, will be happy you did!

Talking to Reese and his mom, Karen, I learned a few things that are on his online home, www. He has been acting, singing, and dancing for more than two years. Among other shows, he's been in "Oliver!" at Philly's Walnut Street Theatre and "A Christmas Carol" at Civic Theatre of Allentown (Pa.), a city which is the Diaz family's home base. Finally, Reese is in the fourth grade.

How, I asked Reese's mom, does her son continue his education while on the road? "I'm home schooling him," she replied. "We get his program online, and we work our way through all the exercises." Reese added: "I'm studying math, science, social studies, history, language skills, and literature." At least twice during the academic year, the company manager of "Beast," Deborah Barrigan, will bring in outside officials to test Reese and Jeremiah on their academic progress.

How did Reese get cast in the show? "He did two auditions this past December," Karen replied. "The boys couldn't be taller than 50 or 51 inches and needed to be at least 8 years old." (Reese is 10.) Reese continued: "Jeremiah and I were the first two boys at the audition. We became friends right away."

The role of Chip requires singing, not much dancing, but a fair amount of stamina: throughout most of "Beauty" we see only the boy's head, because he's inside a cart that gets pushed around the stage. "It can get a little hot in there," Reese says, "but nothing too bad." (To keep all the demands on the boys manageable, they alternate the role day by day; if it's a two-show day, the boy who's on that day will do both of them.)

I asked Reese if he had a favorite show he'd seen on Broadway: "'Mary Poppins,'" he said, "because I learned to spell 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.'" When I ask him to mention a favorite character in "Beauty," he replies, "I like Lefou, because he gets punched a lot. I like Gaston, too."

As much as both Reese and Jeremiah love the characters in "Beauty and the Beast," they may like their portable Nintendo DS players even more: when they're not doing schoolwork, their backstage life includes a lot of DS gaming.

Another of Reese's favorite things: his mini-dachshund, Yocco, who was named for a restaurant in the Allentown area that serves a mean hot dog. "When we play Scranton (Pa)," Reese announced, "I'll get to see Rocco again, because he's not on the road with us." In Scranton, Reese will also get to see some of his school friends from home. "That will be great, too," he told me.


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