GADSDEN, Ala. — A tale as old as time was almost upstaged last weekend by a bit of modern romance, as the lead actors in a production of “Beauty and the Beast” got engaged after final bows in the final show.

Samuel Iddings and Leanna Beth Fleming were an item before either was cast, but no one else knew of Sam’s plan — with the exception of Director Cody Carlton and another cast member or two that Sam felt he had to enlist to keep everyone on stage.

Both Sam and Leanna are Jacksonville State University students, and this was the first production for either with CharACTers, a local performance troupe. Leanna said they’d been a couple for about 18 months before becoming involved in the show.

The two met at college, Leanna said. Sam attended the University of Alabama for a while, then transferred to Jacksonville State. The two had a class together and both were in a capella choir.

“I noticed him from the beginning,” she said. “I thought he was so good looking, I had to get to know him.”

As it turns out, Leanna said, he’d noticed her too, and had similar thoughts.

The two started dating and have been together ever since.

Leanna, an Albertville High School graduate, had performed for years with the school’s show choir and has been dancing for 14 years, but had never portrayed a major character like Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Sam was a more experienced actor when the two decided to audition.

To begin with, Sam auditioned for the part of Gaston — Belle’s would-be suitor and the real villain of the show. But he said Carlton suggested he would be better for the part of the prince-turned-Beast.

While the on-stage romance had moments of conflict, the one between Sam and Leanna was smoother sailing, and the destination seemed clear.

“There had been some talk,” Leanna said. “I think we both thought that’s where the relationship was heading.”

Still, she was taken by surprise when Sunday’s curtain call on Oct. 29 came with a proposal.

Sam said he started considering the on-stage proposal about the second week of production — at his dad’s suggestion. He talked to Carlton about it and got the stamp of approval.

In fact, the show’s director helped ease the way into Sam’s big moment.

After the bows, Carlton addressed the audience and those involved with the show, thanking them for their hard work and recognizing many for the backstage people who made the production possible.

When he stopped, it seemed natural that Sam, too, spoke up, talking about how much he’d enjoyed working on the show, and with the cast, and about how he’d been able to share the experience with the girl he loved.

“Everything I love about life is in you,” Sam told Leanna. “If I could spend the rest of my life with you …” he said, and the cast and the audience, apparently realizing what was happening, almost drowned out his words.

“I have a very important question to ask …”

And the answer, of course, was an emotional “yes.” Sam’s cousin, Brittany Teti, captured the moments on camera.

Sam said he was not nervous about asking the question, but he was concerned that Leanna might not like the big moment occurring in front of a crowd, rather than a more intimate setting.

As it turns out, he had nothing to worry about.

Leanna said the wedding likely will be in the spring of 2019, after both graduate. Both are majoring in music education.

Sam said their plan is that he will teach band and she will teach choir. It sounds like a perfect next chapter in a storybook relationship.


Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com

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DONNA THORNTON
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