A Belle of a role: Dana Daunis trades in her Miss Connecticut crown for another in 'Beauty and the Beast' play
BY TRACY SIMMONS REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Dana Daunis, of Watertown, knows the role well. She's been Miss Greater Watertown, Miss Fairfield County and most recently, Miss Connecticut. Now, at age 22, Daunis is playing the part of her dreams — Belle from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," at the Thomaston Opera House, through Aug. 10.
"Belle has been my dream role," she said. "It has been all my life."
"Beauty and the Beast" is the Disney musical about a bookish young girl who lives with her father in a small French town. When her inventor father doesn't return from a trip, Belle searches for him and discovers he's being held captive by a beast.
Opening night for the production was July 19.
"Even when I was younger my role model was Belle," Daunis said. "People used to tell me I looked like her."
Tracy Forbes, executive director for the Miss Fairfield County and Miss New Haven County scholarship programs, said she wasn't surprised when she heard Daunis would be playing a princess on stage.
"It's the perfect role for Dana. I have a 4-year-old daughter that loves Dana and she always used to say Dana reminded her of Belle or of a Disney princess," Forbes said. "She's a phenomenal entertainer. Her vocal skills coupled with her personality, I'm sure is what got her the role. She's someone we'll see on Broadway someday."
Belle is the perfect princess, Daunis said, because she's beautiful, a little stubborn and comes from a small town. She said as Miss Connecticut she was a role model to young girls.
"As Belle, I get to carry on that role model image that a lot of little girls look up to," she said.
Daunis, who has been acting since the seventh-grade, is no stranger to community theater. She has played Maria from "West Side Story," Fiona in "Brigadoon" and Sandy in "Grease." It's been six years since her last theater role, and she said being on the stage again has been challenging. She said that as Miss Connecticut she spent the past year "playing Dana," as a representative of the Miss America Organization. Now, she said, she's playing a character and has been working on memorizing lines and song lyrics.
"When I was playing the part of myself if I messed up I could laugh about it," she said, noting there's no room for error in live theater.
She thought she was through with acting, since she fell out of the trade after high school, but couldn't resist "Beauty and the Beast."
Daunis said the play, directed by Rick Doyle, is especially important to her because it's at the Thomaston Opera House.
When Daunis was 18 years old she opened Center Stage Studio, which was a performing arts academy for children. "For me to come back it had to be this show and this theater," she said. "Now that I'm on stage again I realize how much I miss it."
Forbes said that when she first met Daunis, she was impressed with her maturity.
"She owned her own business already and she was in school and competing and doing extremely well," she said. "She gives 150 percent in everything she does. She has a very good heart and is very dedicated to everything she does from owning her own business, to life, to friends, to family, to pageants."
Daunis, who no longer owns the studio because her time was devoted to Miss Connecticut, encourages guests to come see the Thomaston production because of the set and the actors.
"It's magical," she said. "The stage has literally been transformed and the cast are very dedicated people."
Daunis recently completed her bachelor's degree in psychology from Central Connecticut State University and is a certified children's domestic and sexual abuse counselor. As Miss Connecticut, Daunis spent much of her time raising money and awareness for abused children. She said it's been an interest to her every since she volunteered at Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury as a teenager.
"I've always had the ability to connect with children," she said.
She noted that she can't sit still and is always trying new things and isn't sure what she'll occupy her time with after "Beauty and the Beast" ends. She currently works at Heritage Hotel in Southbury where she said she has found a new passion in the hospitality business.
"Beauty and the Beast"
July 25, 26 and Aug. 1, 2 at 8 p.m.
July 27 and Aug. 3, 9, 10 at 2 p.m.
$20 for adults, $17 for students and seniors