July 12, 2023 at 9:10 a.m.
Luke Rentschler has found his niche – theatre.
This 2021 Albany High School graduate is preparing to hit the Melrose stage in his 25th production. He has also performed on stages in Albany, Cold Spring and St. Cloud, at the Long Prairie Drive-In with a Little Falls theatre group and while attending college at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, in productions like “Shrek,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell.”
“I found a group of people I belonged with. I had tried other things, like baseball, but that was not my thing,” he said. “I knew I liked theatre. Then I started and never stopped.”
Rentschler is the beast in Melrose Stages, Inc., “Beauty and the Beast,” July 17, 18, 19, 21, 22 and 23 at the Marit Elliott Performing Arts Center in Melrose.
The beast is a part Rentschler played in 2021 when he was a senior at Albany Area High School. Initially, he was cast for the 2020 production, but COVID-19 hit and the show was postponed.
“That was a dream part for me. I was over the moon,” Rentschler said.
While disappointed it was postponed, he was elated to bring the character to life during his senior year – and now again on the Melrose stage.
Fellow actor Kim Schneider, of Sauk Centre, also brings years of theatrical experience to the stage, this summer as a villager, or ensemble person, in the Disney musical. She has been involved in 38 productions; 34 on the stage and four behind the scenes. She was in plays at Dawson-Boyd High School and attended plays in Melrose when she moved here after marrying Tom Schneider.
“Tom looked at me one night and said, ‘You really want to be up there, don’t you?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’” Schneider said.
Her first show in Melrose was in 2002 when she played Jack’s mother in “Into the Woods.” She has been in a few shows with their children, Karla and Sean.
“It’s fun to be on the stage with your own kids. They have followed me in that because they love singing and theatre,” she said. “It’s something you can use the rest of your life. I can always be part of my theatre family.”
Rentschler and Schneider are among a cast of 47 adults and students from St. Cloud to Sauk Centre, that include Maria Warhol as Belle, Becky Kapsner as Mrs. Potts, Andrew Peterson as Gaston, Mia McCoy as Madame Bouche, Brandon Stalboerger as Lumiere, Shalon Wilber as Cogsworth and Sam Duff as Lefou.
For some, it is a literal family affair. Wilber, his wife, Kate, and their two children, Laney and Jay, of Sauk Centre, are in this production.
“Your theatre family is as supportive as your own,” Schneider said. That’s why I tell everyone ‘it’s my theatre family.’”
She has played a nun in five productions.
“I love being a nun. With “Sister Act,” I never had to change costume. Your habit was your habit,” she said. “But then again, last year we did ‘Grumpy Old Men,’ and I played Punky, and that was so much fun. And in ‘The Addams Family,’ I was Cousin Itt, and I never talked (just blubbered).”
Even when she’s not on stage acting, she is helping with set changes.
“Besides learning your part, you learn when you have to move this piece or that piece,” she said. “It’s all about learning. Oh, my gosh, I’ve added more to my plate, but that’s OK.”
She finds the most challenging part is learning dance moves.
“I’ve got two left feet and the choreographer knows that,” she said, laughing.
Schneider said theatre is good for the community.
“It brings a lot of people together,” she said.
For Rentschler, the son of Rick and Deb (Soenneker) Rentschler of Avon, each production brings a new family-like feeling.
He was a seventh grader when he first stepped on the stage of the Albany Public Schools little theatre playing a sailor in “The Little Mermaid, Jr., a shortened version of the Disney show.
“The lights went down and the curtain went up, and I started to breath heavy and said, ‘Oh, God. Oh, God.’ They calmed me down, and I made it through,” he said.
That summer he joined the cast of “The Little Mermaid” in Melrose.
“I did six months straight of ‘Little Mermaid,’” he said.
Rentschler was hooked.
He talks about playing the lead Shrek, in the Albany musical by the same name, and the emotional aspect.
“You feel the audience in the palm of your hands when you are in the scenes,” he said. “You became the character.”
It is with emotional expression and emotional freedom that he brings the beast to life.
“There is a lot to this character. A lot of people will dismiss this show, saying it’s Disney, happy and fun, but this is one of the most serious shows Disney has done,” Rentschler said.
He sees a lot of himself in this character.
“The beast has been struggling with so much because he made a bad decision, and it’s not only affecting him but those who care about him. For 10 years he has been dealing with the consequences of his actions,” Rentschler said. “We can all relate to that. We’ve all made bad decisions that weigh heavy on us.”
This time around, he is approaching the character differently.
“I come into this show with so many new life experiences,” he said. “I think about the words I’m saying and the emotions that come with it.”
Ironically, when he tried out for “Beauty and the Beast,” he hoped to get the part of Gaston, the villain.
“I had played the beast and, at the time, I didn’t think I had anything to add to the part. I had never played a villain before,” he said.
The Gaston part was given to Andrew Peterson, Albany Area Schools’ choir director.
“His voice is extraordinary,” Rentschler said. “He’s too nice to play a villain.”
Rentschler is living a dream as the beast, even if he is hiding behind a mask for much of the show.
“When you are playing that part you are in a shell of yourself; like you are trapped in this body,” he said.
Much of the costuming for the production is borrowed from Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
Rentschler is enjoying the whole beast experience, especially singing his favorite song, “If I Can’t Love Her.”
He credits the success of Melrose community theatre to directors Marit Elliott and Andrew Engel, choreographer Calli Mayers and costumer Nancy Jeske.
“Marit lets us have creative freedom,” Rentschler said. “She genuinely believes in all of her actors.”
Schneider is excited to hit the stage as a villager.
“I do it for the joy of it,” she said. “Then the audience will enjoy it just as much as we do.”
Rentschler, a college history and theatre double major, is ready to become the beast, mask and all.
The theatrical stage is Rentschler’s world.