by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (DESOTA) presented an early Christmas present to lucky theatre fans who were able to get a ticket to one of the three sold out performances of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” on November 15, 16, and 17.
The Dual Critics have seen this popular musical based on the 1991 movie several times in Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, and Orlando, and every performance was excellent. The DA version was outstanding and had several unique touches that we found excellent.
We will not go into depth on the plot since this is an after-the-fact review, and most readers are familiar with this French fairytale that debuted as a musical in 1994. It is the story of Belle (Katie Sacks), a young attractive villager, who lives with her unconventional inventor father Maurice (Pablo Milla). She loves reading and is absorbed in the world of books. Belle is busy resisting the romantic advances of the pompous and detestable Gaston (Brad Betros).
Everyone’s life changes one cold winter evening when an aged beggar woman (Christy Mull) approaches the Prince (Willie Beaton II), wanting to trade a red rose for a place to spend the night. When he refuses, the woman reveals her true identity as a beautiful Enchantress, who promptly turns him into a beast, doomed to remain the same until he finds his true love.
Belle and Maurice eventually become prisoners in the castle of the Prince, now a horrifying Beast with a very bad temper. They are greeted by a number of servants, all of whom have been placed under a spell by the Enchantress and appear in the guise of household furnishings: Lumiere (Devin Reardon) as a candelabra, Cogsworth (Richard Speed) as a clock, and Mrs.Potts (Essence Williams) and her son Chip (Ana Puig) as a teapot and teacup. The maid Barbette (Stacy Schoonover) has been changed into a flirtatious feather duster, while a former opera singer (Olivia Chernyshev) appears as an unusual chest of drawers.
The castle by Scenic Designer Nolan O’Dell featured three revolving rooms, that included Belle’s room, a library, and a room in the West Wing where the Beast keeps a rose, given to him by the Enchantress, under a glowing bell jar. The castle appears spacious and uncluttered, but has enough detail to appear medieval. Drops are used to portray village and forest scenes.
The costumes designed by Sally Pettigrew and created by a large costume crew of DA students were gorgeous, with rustic clothes for the villagers, beautiful gowns for Belle, and creative effects for the non-human characters.
Several of the costumes were unique and different from any we had ever seen. Chip, the teacup had a skirt-like outfit. The wolves (Josh Stevens, Isaiah Turner, Kamari Saxon, David Emanuel, and Brandon Hines) did not wear fur or wolf heads but were bare chested and created the menacing wolves with very robust and intense pursuit in the forest. The Beast was created by effective user of makeup rather than use of horns.
Two musical numbers stirred the audience to extended applause. First was “Gaston,” featuring a large portion of the cast, including of course Gaston, who was joined by his side kick, LeFou (Jay Cobian). This number, set in a pub, also featured excellent humor and dancing by Gaston’s female fans , the Silly Girls (Christy Mull, Sarah DiGeorgio and Kiernan O’Connor). These talented ladies were also Napkins in the other show stopping number ”Be Our Guest,” and were joined by Amanda Severson, Emily Suarez, and Taylor Baines.
The dancing Plates included Kristen Shaw, Veronica Vale, Amber Douglas, Shannon Behrens, Kendall Messersmith, Victoria Wakefield, and Miranda Levo.
There was a collective gasp of amazement when the flatwear came marching onto the stage dress in skintight dazzling gold. The Spoons were played by Sissy Hofaker, Samantha Hannigan, Jenniviev Gubat, Jasmine Walters, Riley Hillyer and Dylan Tossavvainen. Their counterparts, the Forks, were Joel Oliver, Ronald Ferraco, Isaiah Turner, Brandon Hines, Kamari Saxon and Michael Rahbar. No meal is complete without Salt and Pepper; Mallory Wintz and Josh Stevens appeared dressed in shiny silver.
One of the crowd favorites was David Emanuel as a dancing carpet. Rounding out the cast was Riley Hillyer as Monsieur D’Arque, the head of the local insane asylum.
While all the voices were splendid, the featured roles were exceptional. We liked Willie Beaton II as the Beast. He had moments of humor but was also serious and believable, and sang with passion. Brad Betros as Gaston sang with power. No fake muscles on this Gaston, no sir, Betros is built like an Olympic weightlifter, just perfect for this role.
Katie Sacks as the lovely Belle sang a number of the songs and did so with perfection. Her marvelous voice was a pleasure to listen to as she caressed and embraced each note.
Artistic Director Dr. Lee S. Beger has once again brought musical theatre magic to the stage of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. She was assisted by a marvelous artistic staff, a large student orchestra, the 40 inspired actors and actresses on the stage, and another 40 or more students who handled all the back stage business that is so essential for a successful show. Kudos to the DA Theatre Boosters, the parents who arranged the silent auction and provided all those delicious snacks and goodies that we enjoyed before the show and at the intermission.
If you missed “Beauty and the Beast,” you missed an outstanding production. Coming up at DA will be the Annual Children’s Show on January 16, 17, and 18. In April, “Adding Machine” by Elmer Rice will be presented in the DA black box theatre. For more information visit, www.da-arts.org.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM