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'Beauty and The Beast' is a family affair for Teeter clan

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 16, 2010 - There's no shortage of talent in the Teeter family of Webster Groves. But with four children 8 and under, it can be tough to hold onto the spotlight.

Even at two weeks old, Maggie, the baby of the family, almost stole the show last summer from her then-7-year-old sister Elizabeth during Elizabeth's St. Louis Muny debut as Tootie in "Meet Me in St. Louis." 

"The overture is playing, and Maggie has her first huge poop blowout," recalled dad Lara Teeter.

Employing precision teamwork honed by almost a decade of diaper-changing, Teeter and his wife Kristen, a modern dance performer and COCA instructor, dashed from their seats, took Maggie off to the side and worked in tandem to clean her up. They rejoined Elizabeth's twin, Charlie, and middle daughter Katherine just in time for the start of Elizabeth's very first singing performance.

"It's going to be part of the Teeter lore that her little baby sister tried to upstage her on opening night," Teeter laughed.

Monday, June 21, marks another family first: Both Elizabeth and Charlie will join their dad onstage in the Muny's "Beauty and the Beast" as chorus members.

Devoted Parents Not Above Bribery

That Lara Teeter is playing the candelabra character of Lumiere is fitting, given the glowing manner in which he describes his family. Teeter's storied career as a performer, choreographer and director has brought him accolades from Los Angeles to New York.

His Broadway credits include "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "The Pirates of Penzance" and the list of his touring shows contain the role of Don Lockwood in "Singin' in the Rain" and the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz."

But it's the children who get his rave reviews.

"To watch your daughter come out and sing the first line of a show is incredible," Teeter said. "She was amazing. I saw every performance."

Teeter's pride in his children extends to their efforts not just in theater, but in whatever activities they choose.

"Charlie is into speed skating, like Apolo Ohno, the short track," Teeter said. "He won first in Missouri in his age group in his first year of competing."

It wasn't the footlights that lured Charlie to the Muny, but the promise of new footwear.

"My wife felt it would be good for him to do something different. So she said, 'If you audition, I'll give you a new pair of green Converse tennis shoes,'" Teeter explained.

An 'Absolute Natural'

Elizabeth needed no urging to audition for her first role.

"She picked her song, she choreographed it, she worked out all the details," Teeter said.

After Elizabeth's first performance, Teeter asked his daughter how it went. Her answer made it clear the stage would be her second home.

"She said, 'Well, the door opened and I walked out on stage and I saw all those people, and I thought, this is awesome.' We knew at that moment that she was meant to do it," Teeter said.

"I think it's really fun to sing and dance and talk onstage," said Elizabeth, whose next role after "Beauty" will be that of Marta in the Muny's "The Sound of Music."

As for Charlie joining her in "Beauty and the Beast," Elizabeth thinks it will be "fun" but she doesn't see him as being the sibling who will share her passion. 

"I really don't think of my brother as a theater person," she explained. "My sister Katherine wants to be an actress when she grows up."

Much more than parental pride portends Elizabeth's future as a performer. Nancy Sherwin, Muny youth chorus coordinator and family friend, called Elizabeth an "absolute natural" with "extremely rare" attributes.

"It's that quality that's really hard to describe and can't be taught: an attentiveness, an ability to verbalize how she's feeling and what she needs to know, so we can help her," Sherwin said. "It's a lot of factors coming together into this adorable little package."

Singing Praises Of St. Louis

The Teeters have called St. Louis home for three years now. Lara Teeter's day job as theater professor at Webster University is close to the local high school and not far from home. Teeter, the son of a preacher, and his wife, raised in a military family, experienced nomadic childhoods and envision a more stable childhood for their offspring.

"We always fantasize about what it would be like to go through all 12 grades in one town," Teeter said. "Then, when we moved here both of us felt like 'this is it.'"

The city's burgeoning artistic community, cultural diversity and family amenities make St. Louis an ideal location, he said. Barring some fantastic opportunity, the Teeters plan to stay put.

"I just don't see it getting any better than this," Teeter said. "There's not one day goes by that we don't think we're the luckiest people on the planet."

Nancy Fowler Larson is a freelance writer who regularly covers theater for the St. Louis Beacon.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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