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Courtney Piccoli, who is directing her 14th Pinewood Bowl summer musical, had three bits of advice for the cast of "Beauty and the Beast."

"Have some bug spray handy, drink plenty of water and acclimate yourselves to the heat," she said, reminding them that the elements -- from the hot sun to the potential for downpours -- have the potential to take over a show. "It's a little different being in the outdoors performing on a concrete slab."

It's Pinewood's greatest challenge.

However, it's just part of the charm of Pinewood Bowl's annual musical, in its 70th year and -- without question -- an enduring Lincoln tradition.

"Beauty and the Beast," with a cast of 42 along with 20 orchestra members who range in age from their teens to 70 years, debuted Thursday and will run through the next two weekends.

Being a part of Pinewood’s 70th anniversary show makes this year more special, Piccoli said.

“To have a theater group be around for 70 years is impressive -- especially in the Midwest,” she said. “We’re all excited to be a part of this.

"I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with what we accomplish in this outdoor setting. I think we are going to wow them with our performances."

Claire Wilkinson, a Lincoln Southwest graduate who has been acting since childhood, will play the lead role of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town.

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Belle encounters the Beast, played by Bret Olsen, who is really a young prince trapped in the spell of an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will be lifted and he will be transformed into his former self.

Piccoli said she knew she’d found the musical’s lead actress the minute Wilkinson auditioned.

“You could tell she wanted to be Belle,” Piccoli said. “Her audition was wonderful. She came in prepared and ready to go.”

If anyone knows what it takes to succeed at a Pinewood Bowl musical, it’s Piccoli. In the 70 years of its existence, she has contributed in 23 productions as an actress, choreographer or director.

She’s directed 14 Pinewood productions, including favorites like “Cats” (2006), “The Wizard of Oz” (2011), “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (2012), and “42nd Street” (2015), and knows what it will take to make this year’s show successful.

“I’m tough on the cast,” she said. “I require that they give the same performance each night, regardless of what night it is, how many people are in the audience or any personal problems they might be having.”

Like in any event, be it a concert or an athletic competition, there’s no telling who might be in attendance.

“We talk about that all the time,” Piccoli said. “You never know who’s going to be out there. You have to give it your best every night."

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