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Beaverton Civic Theatre brings beloved children's book to life in its winter play

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Burke (left), who stars as Sara Crewe, works through a rehearsal for Beaverton Civic Theatre's production of 'A Little Princess' with James Vaneaton, who plays her father, Captain Crewe, in the background.Everyone knows you can go to the Beaverton City Library and read a book. Starting Friday, you’ll be able to go to the library and watch a book, too.

Beaverton Civic Theatre, a community theater group that stages its shows in the library’s downstairs auditorium, is opening its winter play this weekend. The production is 'A Little Princess,' based on the classic children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

For assistant director Sarah Ominski, the play is a perfect fit. She says she’s read Burnett’s novel “probably a hundred times,” and upon finding out that Beaverton Civic Theatre was producing the play, she was thrilled.

“It’s amazing to watch it come to life,” Ominski says.

This is Ominski’s first play with Beaverton Civic Theatre after auditioning for the group seven times.

“I’m also a big believer in ‘Everything happens for a reason,’” she says. “And I was meant to have this show be my first one here.”

For the show’s lead — 13-year-old Charlotte Burke — “A Little Princess” is a big step, too.

Charlotte previously appeared in Beaverton Civic Theatre’s show 'The Miracle Worker' in 2012, but in a role so minor her character wasn’t even named on the cast list. By contrast, this is the first play where she’s been the star.

Charlotte, an eighth-grader at Twality Middle School in Tigard, said it was “exciting” and surprising to find out she had been cast to play Sara Crewe, the story’s young but wise, kind and generous heroine.

“I just love the characters, I guess,” she said. “Sara’s so magnanimous and kind, and she’s a storyteller. I love how (Sara’s friend) Ermengarde is just kind of, like, quiet, which I relate to. ... I love all the different characters.”

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Sara Crewe (Charlotte Burke, center) and Captain Crewe (James Vaneaton, left) meet the cruel Miss Minchin (Jeanine Stassens, right) during a rehearsal for 'A Little Princess' at the Beaverton City Library auditorium.Not all of the characters are lovable, however. Every heroine needs a villain, and veteran local actress Jeanine Stassens’ unpleasant headmistress Miss Minchin provides one in spades.

“She’s a terror!” Stassens said of her character. “It’s really fun. I just came from playing Yenta (in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’) at Theatre In The Grove, and so ... the juxtaposition was just really fun.”

But, she added, “It’s hard, because these children are so wonderful. I mean, I almost made one cry on the first night. ... I looked at her, and her eyes filled with tears.”

Stassens and Ominski are full of praise for the young performers, most of them girls, in the show’s cast.

“These young kids are so incredible,” Ominski said. “They’re just overwhelmingly gifted and amazing.”

The show’s director is Melissa Riley, who founded Beaverton Civic Theatre back in 2009. She said she selected the play because, among other reasons, she wanted to do a show with “strong literary tie-ins” to end the year.

“We like to do one show a year that has a strong book tie-in, because we perform inside the library, and the library also picks up on it and develops programming as well,” Riley explained.

The library hosted “A Little Princess” party last month, which doubled as a sort of dress rehearsal for the cast, which came to the event in character and interacted with library patrons.

Riley said she’s fond of the story because of “the relationships that happen between the characters.”

Although Burnett’s book was published more than a century ago in 1905, there is an enduring message.

“It’s that you can believe in anything, and never give up hope,” Riley said.

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Evil headmistress Miss Minchin (Jeanine Stassens, left) lectures Sara Crewe (Charlotte Burke) and the schoolgirls during a rehearsal for 'A Little Princess.'Charlotte is hopeful that audiences will “learn more about storytelling” from watching the play.

“I want them to be able to make things using nothing,” she added, referring to the way Sara uses the “magic” of her imagination to hold onto hope despite the cruelty of Miss Minchin and her boarding school classmates.

Opening day is also Charlotte’s parents’ wedding anniversary, she said.

“I’m going to be released from school early just to get all the emotions under control,” she laughed. “I guess I’m nervous but really, really excited.”

The curtain goes up on “A Little Princess” at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Beaverton City Library auditorium. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 20.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors 55 and older, students and groups of 10 or more, and $10 for children 10 and under. They can be purchased online or at the box office, which opens 30 minutes prior to each showtime.

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