Trumbull theater program returns with ‘Beauty and the Beast’

TRUMBULL — It’s a tough time for community and youth theater programs, said Brett Boles.

“A lot of them aren’t doing so well right now,” said Boles, an award-winning musical theater composer, lyricist, book writer and music director.

He attributes that to the fact that a lot of theater programs went on hiatus during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “When you lose one or two years of doing a program like that, you lose a little institutional memory and you have to build a little of that back,” he said.

But Boles hasn’t seen that happen with the Trumbull Youth Association, the local theater program for which Boles is directing his 10th production.

That show, the beloved musical “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” opens Aug. 4 at Trumbull High School. The TYA has been around since 1969 and, since then, the organization has produced a full-scale musical every summer — except in 2020, when it took a pause for the pandemic.

This year’s production involves a cast and crew of more than 80 young people ages 13 to 21. The TYA’s goal has long been to use talented, local youths to produce professional-grade performances, said Merial Cornell, the group’s co-producer and co-artistic director.

“The community really benefits from this, because we put on a really high-quality show with a full orchestra,” she said.

She and fellow co-producer and artistic director Mary Joan Wright have been running the productions since 2009, when TYA put on “Seussical: The Musical.” The two began volunteering with the program when their own children began participating in the shows, and eventually took over running it.

TYA was started by Trumbull resident Mary Keane, who wanted to find something positive for children to do in the tumultuous late 1960s.

“It was started as a way to get kids involved,” Cornell said. “The late 60s was a turbulent time and they wanted something in the community to keep them busy.”

In many ways, the program serves a similar function today, Wright said.

“There really is a need for kids who are not in sports and don’t have other activities they enjoy to have something to do,” she said. “It gives them something to do other than hang out in parking lots or at Starbucks or on their phones.”

It’s also an outlet for children who have always loved music and performing. That includes Harrison Gilberti, 21, who will be playing the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast.”

“I’ve always been interested in music,” he said. When he heard about TYA, “I told my mom ‘I want to do this.’”

Gilberti’s first show with the group was actually with TYA Jr., TYA’s program for younger kids. In a funny twist, that first show was a production of “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” Gilberti played the arrogant Gaston, the mortal enemy to the Beast.

He’s been doing shows ever since, and hopes to pursue theater as a career. Gilberti said TYA was instrumental in helping him learn what he wanted to do with his life. “It’s just a beautiful place where you can come to be with your friends, have a wonderful time, and learn something,” Gilberti said.

Boles said he first got involved after a friend told him the group was looking for a director.

In addition to his work with TYA, Boles serves as the director of choirs at Hall High School in West Hartford and is a member of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, and the Dramatists Guild of America. He also recently had his new musical “Time Stops” premiere at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Boles said he’s been struck by TYA’s resilience in these difficult times. He said part of the reason is that TYA is a tight-knit group of creative people, some of whom have known each other for years. The group’s members also are deeply passionate about theater, he said.

“This year, we really came ready to put on a spectacular show,” Boles said.

He echoed Wright and Cornell in believing that TYA benefits both the community — who get to see a first-class production — and Trumbull’s young people.

“It teaches them individual responsibility and ensemble responsibility,” Boles said. “It teaches them so much more than theater.”

“Beauty and the Beast” performances will take place at the Trumbull High School Auditorium, 72 Strobel Road in Trumbull from Aug. 4 to 7. Evening performances are Aug. 4, 5 and 6, at 7:30 p.m. There will be two matinee performances at 2 p.m. Aug. 6 and 7. All tickets are $20 and will be available at the door and online.

TYA also offers a free senior citizen performance on Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. The performance has festival seating and no tickets are required. For more information, visit