You all know the story—“A tale as old as time”—of Beauty and the Beast. A vain, wealthy man is cursed because he cannot see people for the beauty within. He breaks the curse when he meets a plain, ordinary woman and falls in love with her despite her lack of physical beauty…no wait, that’s Shrek. In Beauty and the Beast, he falls for the most beautiful woman in town. Perhaps he didn’t quite learn the lesson, but Belle learned it for him, falling for him despite his frightening appearance.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—the stage musical based on the Disney animated film from 1991, opened the 2017 season of Sacramento’ Music Circus on Tuesday, June 20 and will play through Sunday, July 2. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1994, is an expanded re-telling of the story from the film, using all of the songs from the original and adding seven more. Composer Alan Menken worked with lyricist Howard Ashman in the original, and after he died, Tim Rice and Menken wrote the new material. Menken and Rice later teamed up again to write new songs for Disney’s latest version of the tale, the live action film released earlier this year. So this little regarded story by French writer Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont has become a big part of the culture, and a family favorite. The audience at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, an in-the-round theater with great seats no matter where you sit, held many excited youngsters eager to see the show.
This production features Jessica Grove as Belle, the Beauty of the title, a young woman living in her “provincial town” who reads voraciously and dreams of adventures beyond the French village. An early version of the more modern “Disney Princess,” she is smart, independent, and caring, but she does still dream of meeting her prince charming, as she sings in the opening song “Belle.” Grove has a lovely voice and strong stage presence to carry the role—crucial as she is in nearly every scene. Her leading “man”—the Beast, (sometimes known as Prince Adam) is played by James Snyder, who has a very powerful voice, which shows especially in the song “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of the first act, as he struggles with his desire to win Belle’s heart and break the curse, knowing he is hideous and frightening in appearance, (and fairly cranky as well.)
The role of the Beast is quite challenging. Behind makeup, fangs, and wild hair most of the show, he is initially intimidating and harsh, and then becomes frustrated, confused, and easily manipulated by Belle and his servants, who desperately want him to win the love of Belle so they can be freed of the curse that transformed them into household objects. Belle, once his prisoner, becomes his teacher. Even when he is supposed to be at his most ferocious, as when he saves Belle from the wolves, (a powerful scene in both the original animated film and recent live action version,) on the stage he barely makes an impact. Belle does as much to fight off the wolves as he does, and then it is she who helps him home and nurses him to health. Snyder is not a large man either, only a few inches taller than Grove—not quite living up to the description of the Beast as “Seven or eight feet tall” as Maurice, Belle’s father, tells it. So though he may not be as intimidating as you may expect the Beast to be, Snyder carries the role well, expressing the conflicted character in both the poignant and comic scenes.
But the role that can really make Beauty and the Beast shine is that of Gaston, the vainglorious bully who sets his sights on Belle as a prize he can win—the only girl in town not crazy for him. Peter Saide is tall and muscular, and plays the bombastic egotist perfectly, in the songs “Me”—one of the new numbers—and in the highlight of the show, “Gaston.” In that song, sung with his lackey LeFou (Jared Gertner) he delivers lines like “I’m especially good at expectorating” and “I use antlers in all of my decorating” with great gusto, while he struts about, impressing the girls and beating up on LeFou. While he is a comical, devious thickhead, he brings life to the show and the scenes in town.
Bringing life to the Beast’s castle are the enchanted objects, the Prince’s servants, led by Cogsworth the clock, played by David Hibbard, and Lumiere the candelabra, played by Michael Paternostro, who make up the comic duo running the household. Mrs. Potts the teapot and her son Chip the teacup join them and the rest of the staff, along with several imaginative plates, napkins, silverware, and an extremely acrobatic carpet (Connor Wince) in the rousing “Be Our Guest,” another big highlight of the show. Colorful and chaotic, the dance makes great use of the circular stage and rising platforms, along with the voices of the company of performers. Mrs. Potts, played by Shannon Warne, later delivers the iconic title song, the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast.” Courtney Iventosch as Babette the feather duster, and Jacqueline Piro Donovan as Madame de la Grande Bouche, the operatic wardrobe, also add comedy to the staff.
The opening night audience loved the show, giving the performers a standing ovation. The orchestra, with conductor Craig Barna and 11 musicians, do a fantastic job enhancing the production, creating a big sound from a fairly small group. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, directed by Glenn Casale, runs at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through Sunday, July 2. Even at two hours long, with a 20 minute intermission, it can keep school-aged kids engaged and entertained. For tickets and information, see www.CaliforniaMusicalTheatre.com. The Music Circus season will continue with On The Town opening July 11.
Ken Kiunke 6/22/2017 Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Jessica Grove and James Snyder as the title characters
Sacramento’s Music Circus is wrapping up the 2017 season with Sister Act, a musical adaptation of the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film. The stage version premiered in 2006 in Pasadena before moving to London in 2009, and, with some changes, to Broadway in 2011. With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater, it brings the basic plot—a Reno lounge singer in 1978 witnesses her gangster boyfriend murder a snitch, the police place her in a witness protection program at a convent, she poses as a nun, and though she’s a fish-out-of-water, she brings her brand of music to the sisters—into the realm of musical theater. While the film relied on Motown music almost exclusively, the musical brings together original songs with rhythm & blues, soul, funk, and gospel influences into a typical musical theater sound, all mixed in with traditional church hymns. And while the music is the main draw for the show, it is also easily the funniest production this Music Circus season.
Zonya Love stars as Deloris Van Cartier, the lounge singer hoping her married, gangster boyfriend will give her the big break as a star in his nightclub. She opens with two songs, “Take Me to Heaven” and “Fabulous, Baby” which were good, but not really exciting. The following scenes, where she witnesses her boyfriend kill one of his henchmen who snitched, and the police arranging to send Deloris into hiding at the convent, also fell kind of flat. But once Deloris is dressed in her nun’s habit and begins interacting with the Mother Superior and sisters, the show really does begin to come alive, especially in the humorous song “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” with lines like “I love the sweet sensation/Of extreme self-flagellation/And genuflecting’s always pretty fun. Praise the Lord it’s good to be a nun.”
That scene is followed by many more that continue to raise the bar. Rufus Bonds, Jr. plays gangster Curtis Jackson with that perfect look of a 1970s “blacksploitation” film hero, with his neat afro, goatee, and slick wide-lapeled three-piece suit. He and his three compatriots look and sound like the Temptations in the darkly comic song “When I Find My Baby.” Then Alan Wiggins, who plays “Sweaty” Eddie Souther, the police officer who is investigating the murder, and who realizes that Deloris was the girl he had a crush on back in high school, but was too nervous to tell her, has his “star” moment. Out on the street, he begins singing rather quietly of his disappointment about always being overlooked, but is then joined by several “bums” who emerge from the shadows, and delivers the song “I Could Be That Guy” as he channels soul singers like Al Green and Marvin Gaye into one of the big highlights of the show.
That scene is followed by the kind of number that Sister Act is all about. Deloris has been told to join the choir to help out, and begins to teach the nuns how to find the joy in the music they are trying to sing. “The first rule of singin’:/Get the rafters ringin’!” she begins, and one by one draws the sisters out to raise their voices with true joy and inspiration. Soon it builds to a crescendo in the song “Raise Your Voice,” mixing the church’s Latin hymns in with her brand of the soul music, and even the older sisters get fully into the spirit Deloris shares with them, sometimes with great comic effect. They then go into a reprise of the song “Take Me To Heaven,” this time much more inspired than in the opening scene, and the song you’ll be humming later.
Act Two has some very notable highlights as well, as others in the cast get a chance to stand out. Curtis’s three henchmen, Joey, Pablo, and TJ, are sent to find Deloris once Curtis knows she is hiding in the convent. The three scheme on how they will sweet-talk their way in with “Lady in the Long Black Dress.” Joey, played by Todd A. Horman, looks just like the typical tough guy you see hanging around the background of movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas. But he brought the house down with his cheesy seductive moves, singing “Picture you and me one sweet, sweet night/In a pool of votive candlelight. Just one thing could make the mood more right/God droppin’ in to sing like Barry White.” TJ, Curtis’s nephew, played by Justin Keyes, turns it up another notch singing “Loosen up those vestments, just a bit/Drop that Bible baby—yeah, that’s it.” As Pablo (Chris Chatman) joins in in Spanish, they all play their sacrilegious seductions right to the crowd, finishing up with “Forget Jehovah/The wait is ov-ah/Come to Casanova/For romance!” Needless to say, they got further with the audience than they did with the nuns.
Lynne Wintersteller plays the Mother Superior, whose main job is to try to keep her convent together amid the chaos. She laments to God her exasperation with the whole situation in her solo song “I Haven’t Got a Prayer,” which includes more of Glenn Slater’s clever lyrics, like “I got disco piped into the cloister/I got glitter wherever you gaze. I got celibate nuns/Shaking their buns/Shrieking You and Your son’s holy praise.” While for most of the show she is frustrated and complaining, in this song Wintersteller gets to show off her great voice, with a bit of good comic timing. Then the youngest of the sisters, novitiate Mary Robert, questions her choice to become a nun in the song “The Life I Never Led.” Jeanna De Waal plays the nervous, mousy young lady who becomes more and more bold thanks to Deloris’s influence, and brings both power and sensitivity to her delivery of that song.
The show of course builds to a rousing finale in the songs “Spread Your Love Around” and a repeat of “Raise Your Voice,” all to enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation from the opening night crowd. The orchestra, featuring conductor Dennis Castellano and 12 musicians, is terrific as usual, and featured some great R&B guitar by Tom Phillips and funky bass from Rick Shaw. Sister Act, directed by Glenn Casale, runs at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through Sunday, August 27. The show is great fun, and suitable for teens and older. For tickets and information, see www.CaliforniaMusicalTheatre.com. Broadway Sacramento’s 2017–18 season will open with Beautiful, the Carole King Musical on November 1.
Ken Kiunke 8/23/2017 Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Zonya Love as Deloris joins the sisters and Mother Superior, played by Lynne Wintersteller
Summertime means baseball, and Music Circus in Sacramento. And though Giants, A’s, and even Rivercats fans are enduring somewhat disappointing seasons, the always reliable Music Circus is bringing great shows to downtown Sacramento, with the baseball themed Damn Yankees opening on Tuesday, August 8.
The “Damn Yankees” of the title are the 1950’s era New York Yankees, who featured Mickey Mantle, Yogi Bera, Whitey Ford, and Hank Bauer—a team who just didn’t lose much. They are challenged by the Washington Senators for the pennant, but it would take a miracle to beat those “Damn Yankees.” Joe Boyd is a middle-aged, long suffering fan of the Senators, who knows they might be good enough to overcome the Yanks if they just had one good power hitter (sound familiar, Giants fans?) Joe faces a moral dilemma—should he make a deal with the devil to become Joe Hardy, a young slugger who can make the difference for the team, disappearing from his wife without a trace? On the one hand, leaving your wife and job without so much as a goodbye is pretty extreme—but hey, the Senators haven’t won the pennant since 1924! Joe agrees to the deal with the devil, in the form of a Mr. Applegate, but wisely inserts an “escape clause” that will allow him to back out if things go wrong. Joe Boyd, played by Jeff Howell, sings the touching “Goodbye Old Girl” as he transitions into Joe Hardy, played by Zach Trimmer.
Mr. Applegate is played by the delightful Jason Graae, a comic veteran of many Music Circus productions, including Seussical the Musical as the Cat in the Hat, and as one of the leads in Brigadoon. He brings great comic timing and stage presence to the role of the lovable but evil Mr. Applegate, who is out for Joe’s soul at the mere price of some phenomenal baseball skills and a possible pennant for the Senators. Graae has the chance to really shine in his solo number in Act Two, “Those Were the Good Old Days,” as he relishes his memories of some great evil events of history. He also gets a chance to break the “fourth wall” and play directly to the audience, and even Craig Barna’s orchestra, as he hams it up.
For a baseball story, there is very little ball being played, and when it is, we follow the action by watching the spectators, as when Joe tries out for team manager Van Buren (Stephen Berger) and the rest of the Senators, and we watch their eyes follow his long balls hit out of the park. The show really comes alive when the ballplayers all take the stage, especially for the main theme, “Heart,” which comes close to a barbershop quartet sound with Dennis O’Bannion’s tenor soaring above the others as they sing “You gotta have heaaaaart.” That’s followed up by “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, MO,” as the boys are joined by Gloria Thorpe (Dannette Holden), a local reporter who wants to play up the mysterious character who could make the team great again. It is one of the great song and dance numbers that light up the show throughout.
The female lead is the sexy Lola, brought up from the underworld by Applegate to manipulate Joe, and make him forget his old life (and wife) and his escape clause. Played by Lindsay Roginski, she is perfectly sultry in the song “Whatever Lola Wants.” Her failure to entice the faithful Joe leads to the song “Who’s Got the Pain,” another great dance number featuring Lola and the women of the company, especially Lindsey Bracco, who stood out among the dancers for her precise and naturally exciting moves.
The music for Damn Yankees was written by composer Richard Adler and lyricist Jerry Ross. Following their other great success as a team, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees opened in 1955 and won multiple awards. Sadly, Ross died later that year at age 29 of lung disease. While the music is great, it is Ross’s lyrics that make the show stand out, and are great fun to listen for. The show is filled with clever rhymes like:
We’re so happy that we’re hummin’,
It’s the hearty thing to do
’Cause we know our ship will come-in,
So it’s ten years overdue (from “Heart”)
and Applegate reminiscing:
The rack was in fashion
The plagues were my passion, and
I see cannibals munchin’
A missionary luncheon (in “Those Were the Good Old Days.”)
In “A Little Brains, A Little Talent,” Lola sings:
I took the zing
Out of the king
I made mince-meat
Out of a sweet
as she brags about her talents of seduction.
But the lyrics can be touching as well, as when Zach Trimmer, as the young Joe, shares his feelings with his—the older Joe’s—wife Meg, played by Lynne Winterseller. Trying to tell her that her husband is not so far away, he sings:
Can't you feel him there, in his favorite chair, staring at the fireplace
Oh so near to you, always near to you, why you might as well be face to face.
Damn Yankees is one of those good old-fashion musicals that take you back to the 1950s when baseball was truly the national pastime, and a corny, funny musical was the best entertainment around. In that way, it’s a great companion to On The Town, which played earlier this summer at the Music Circus. The show can get a little risqué, so it’s not for the younger audiences, but great fun for any fan of baseball, or anyone who is sick and tired of baseball fans! The opening night audience loved the show, giving the performers a standing ovation. The orchestra, featuring conductor Craig Barna and 16 musicians, is terrific as usual. Damn Yankees, directed by Charles Repole and choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld, runs at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through Sunday, August 13. For tickets and information, see www.CaliforniaMusicalTheatre.com. The Music Circus season will conclude with Sister Act, opening August 22, and Broadway Sacramento will open with Beautiful, the Carole King Musical on November 1.
Ken Kiunke 8/9/2017
Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
"Ya gotta have heaaaaaaart!" Stephen Berger convinces his team.
Many people may be familiar with On The Town from the great Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra movie musical from 1949, but while the story is the same as the original 1944 Broadway musical, most of the music—by Leonard Bernstein, with Betty Comden and Adolph Green—was dropped in favor of a simpler, less operatic score. Odd, because the original show, which opened at Sacramento’s Music Circus this week, is great fun, and not really “operatic” at all! It was never a big hit on Broadway, with just a few short-lived revivals, and it was last part of the Music Circus in 1961. It is great that it is back, because this show deserves to be seen—it may be the highlight of the new season.
The story itself is pretty simple. Three young sailors get a one-day shore leave in New York City. While they make their plans, one falls in love with a girl he sees on a subway poster—Miss Turnstiles for the month of June. He decides he must meet her, and his buddies agree to split up and help search for the girl of his dreams. Gabey does find his girl, while Ozzie and Chip meet gals of their own, and they all get into a bit of trouble during their overnight odyssey in the big city, before making it back to the ship without going AWOL. In between is some fantastic song and dance, and a lot of good comedy.
Sam Lips, Matt Loehr, and Clyde Alves star as Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie, and come down the gangplank to deliver the signature song of the show, “New York, New York” (…it’s a helluva town, the Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.) With great fun and energy, they follow it up with “Gabey’s Comin’” as his friends tell Gabey how to impress his girl with a confident attitude. We meet Miss Turnstiles, AKA Ivy Smith, played by Courtney Iventosch, in the musical number “Presentation of Miss Turnstiles,” and see that her moment of glory is soon over as the next girl is crowned.
But the fun really begins when the guys meet their new girlfriends. Chip hails a cab and meets the driver, Hildy, played by Jennifer Cody, who is anything but “hard-to-get” as she says in her song “Come Up to My Place.” She remains the real spark plug of the company in several songs with the others, and especially in her number “I Can Cook Too” once she has gotten Chip up to her place. And one of the greatest uses of the theater-in-the-round setup of the Music Circus is when Hildy drives her yellow cab onto and off of the stage!
Meanwhile, Ozzie meets his match when he is at the New York Museum of Natural History, and anthropologist Claire De Loone (Holly Anne Butler) mistakes him for a prehistoric man and begins measuring him. (The gag probably made more sense when Jules Munchin played Ozzie in the movie; Clyde Alves is every bit a good-looking modern young man.) Claire is overcome by her animal instincts and latches on to Ozzie, with the song “Carried Away.” A great running gag throughout the show involves Claire and her fiancé, Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework, played by Donald Corren, who always “understands” when she dallies with another young man … until he doesn’t. Corren is funny throughout, and has a great time with solo, “I Understand (Pitkin’s song).”
And Gabey, having finally found his Miss Turnstiles and even made a date with her, feels ecstatic. Lips gets to show off his great voice with “Lucky to Be Me” before he is disappointed and joins the others in the “Times Square Ballet,” a music and dance sequence, as they go forward to explore the nightlife of the city.
Like Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, this musical also features a “dream ballet,” which allows Iventosch and Lips to show off their great skills as modern dancers, in a passionate and sexy sequence as the separated couple long to be together. They are joined by the great company of dancers, who are fantastic throughout the show as townspeople, sailors, showgirls, and various subway passengers. Other notable supporting cast were Joseph Torello, who opens the show as a workman singing “I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet” in a great booming baritone, and appears as various M.C.s; and Karen Hyland as Hildy’s phlegmatic roommate Lucy Schmeeler, who, in her own way, saves the day for the three couples in the end.
In many ways this is the perfect kind of show for the Music Circus in-the-round format, with lots of action going on up the four main aisles, and the minimal, yet impressive set pieces that are brought in or descend from the rafters. The recently added projection screens around the venue also help, especially during subway rides. The opening night audience loved the show, giving the performers a standing ovation. The orchestra, with conductor Craig Barna and 18 musicians, is terrific as usual. On The Town, directed by Linda Goodrich and choreographed by Mark Espositio, runs at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through Sunday, July 16. The show is funny and has great music, but it can be pretty racy in both the story and dancing, so I would highly recommend it for older teens and adults. For tickets and information see www.CaliforniaMusicalTheatre.com. The Music Circus season will continue with 9 to 5, the Musical, opening July 25.
Ken Kiunke 7/12/2017
Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Matt Loehr and Jennifer Cody in a special Music Circus style cab.