Beauty and the Beast —“A tale as old as time”—is back. The story of the vain, wealthy man cursed because he cannot see people for the beauty within, is being brought to life once again in a new version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—the stage musical, based on the Disney animated film from 1991. 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, a live-action film released earlier this year, starring Emma Watson. That was followed, for Sacramento audiences, with a grand production this summer at the Music Circus. This once little-regarded story by French writer Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont has become a big part of the culture, and a family favorite. El Dorado Musical Theatre (EDMT) is presenting the show for their third time, and each production gets better and better. (Their last production was in 2011.)
The show, which opened October 27 at Folsom’s Harris Center for the Arts, features two entire casts; the “Rose” cast, which I saw on opening night, and the “Mirror” cast. While I am writing about the stars of the Rose cast, EDMT typically has two companies of equal talent in their big shows. Nittany Biggs stars 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. (Hannah Davis stars in the Mirror cast.) An early version of the more modern “Disney Princess,” Belle is smart, independent, and caring, but still dreams of meeting her prince charming, as she sings in the opening song “Belle.” At 15, Biggs is an up-and-coming young star for EDMT. In her fourteenth show, she takes command of the stage, with a lovely voice and strong 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 Zach Wilson (in both casts.) At 17, Wilson is in his amazing forty-fourth EDMT production, and has become the “face” of EDMT—a face that is unrecognizable behind the great makeup that transforms him into the iconic fanged Beast of the story. But his powerful voice shows especially well 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, while knowing he is hideous and frightening in appearance, (and fairly cranky as well.) Wilson handles the challenging role of the Beast expertly. Behind makeup, fangs, and wild hair for 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.
And then there’s Gaston, the narcissistic bully who has set his sights on Belle as a prize he can win—she’s the only girl in town not crazy for him. Stephen Noble (also in both casts) grabs the role of the bombastic buffoon with great gusto, especially in one of the highlights of the show, “Gaston.” In that song, sung with his lackey LeFou, he delivers lines like “I’m especially good at expectorating” and “I use antlers in all of my decorating” with comic seriousness while strutting about, impressing the girls and beating up on LeFou. 13-year-old Cameron Renstrom plays LeFou. At about half the size of Gaston, he brings a lot of personality to the role as he endures constant abuse from his so-called friend, while maintaining his upbeat attitude. The dance around the song, a sort of “beer mug ballet” with Gaston, LeFou, and the townspeople, is a lot of fun, and just one of the great numbers choreographed by Anjie Rose Wilson, a former star and now principle choreographer for EDMT.
Watching Gaston try to woo Belle is great fun and presented humorously, as when Noble and Biggs perform the song “Me”—one of the new numbers created for the musical, as Gaston proposes to Belle, fully expecting her to rush to his side. But as she rebuffs his, he begins using physical intimidation against her, blocking, grabbing, and even carrying her over his shoulder. While Belle never seems too threatened by him, looking bemused as he locks arms and pulls her across the stage, the scene does hit close to home, especially with today’s news of women finally coming out against powerful men who have harassed them. It gets even more resonant when the frustrated Gaston plots revenge against Belle for refusing him, enlisting help, and even a mob, to get his way. But Belle fights back, and he, of course, is ultimately undone.
Helping in that cause, and bringing life to the Beast’s castle, are the enchanted objects, Prince Adam’s one-time servants. Cogsworth the clock, played by Ty Rhoades, and Lumiere the candelabra, played by Liam Roberts, are the comic duo running the household, and bring a lot of fun to their roles. Rhoades has great stage presence as the leader of the staff, trying to please the master, while constantly overrun by rest of them. Especially when Lumiere and Mrs. Potts lead the staff, along with several imaginative plates, napkins, silverware, and kitchen tools, in the rousing “Be Our Guest,” another big highlight of the show. That famous song is brought to life in a full-company stage number, which features the “Napkins” in a Rockettes style kick line, and an amazing acrobatic Carpet played by young gymnast, Amaya Pangilinan.
Mrs. Potts, played by Jocelyn Haney, handles her role with great tenderness and a lovely serene look, but you can tell her heart is breaking that her child Chip, played by Leighton L’Engle, may never grow up to be a real child again. She has a beautiful, clear voice that delivers on the iconic title song, the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast.” Emily Fritz as Babette, the sultry feather duster, and Lindsey Hunter as Madame de la Grande Bouche, the operatic wardrobe, are great in their roles as well, as when the staff all sing of their desire to be “Human Again” if the Beast can break the spell.
Other notable performances are Belle’s father Maurice, played by Luke Villanueva (in both casts) and Angelo Aceves as Monsieur D’Arque, whom Gaston enlists to lock up Maurice as a madman in his scheme to get back at Belle. While Villanueva shows great tenderness in his role as the eccentric inventor and loving father, Aceves is quite creepy as the proprietor of Maison des Lunes, the local insane asylum.
The costumes in this production, perhaps more than any others before, are quite amazing. Costume designer Karen McConnell, with help of at least 21 members of her team, have outfitted 70 performers in each cast, each of them with multiple costume changes. Most stunning, of course, are the wonderful outfits worn by the enchanted objects—Lumiere the candelabra, Cogsworth the clock, Mrs. Potts the teapot, Madame the wardrobe, Babette the feather duster, along with all the rest. Then add in Belle’s peasant dress, her ballroom gowns, and the Beast’s outfits, all done with great care and detail, you have quite an accomplishment. The sets, designed by Crystal Crowe, are also great, augmented by projected scenes in background. And of course, holding it all together is veteran director Debbie Wilson, who pulls off these grand productions with dozens of young performers in two casts, time and time again. And the great singing, by everyone from the stars to the company, is a tribute to vocal director Jennifer Whittmayer.
The opening night audience loved the show, giving the performers a standing ovation. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, produced by Alica Soto, runs through Sunday, November 5. Even at two hours long, with a 20 minute intermission, it will keep kids of all ages, and grown-ups as well, engaged and entertained. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net. EDMT’s next big show will be 42nd Street, one of their audition-only “Encore” productions, beginning February 16, 2018. They will also present a “High Voltage” Holiday Celebration on December 19 of this year.
Ken Kiunke 10/28/2017
Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Nittany Biggs as Belle in the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast by EDMT
Roald Dahl was one of the greatest children’s book authors of the 20th Century, writing tales like James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, and others, many of which enjoyed great success as movies. His greatest legacy was the 1964 novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which has been made into two movies, starring Gene Wilder (1971) and Johnny Depp (2005), and a 2013 London stage musical, which was reworked into a 2017 Broadway musical. The most enduring and popular versions of the story were his original book, and the Gene Wilder movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which were combined in 2004 to form the first stage version, Roald Dahl’s Willie Wonka, which featured the original film music by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, and additional songs by Bricusse (Newley died in 1999.) This version of the story is being brought to the stage by El Dorado Musical Theater (EDMT) at Folsom’s Harris Center for the Performing Arts. It opened on Friday, July 7, and runs through Sunday, July 16.
EDMT is the leading local youth theatre company, which produces several large-scale productions each year, featuring high quality sets, costumes, and production values, and large casts of talented young performers. Willie Wonka is one of their “Rising Stars” productions, featuring kids aged 6–13. But, as CEO Rick Wilson says, “Don’t let their ages fool you. Many of these performers are stage veterans with impressive resumes.” The play features two separate casts in alternating shows—the “Chocolate Cast” and the “Caramel Cast.” I saw the Chocolate Cast on opening night, so my comments will be about those performers, though, typically, both casts are of equal quality. (Some of the actors are in both casts.)
In the movie version we are all familiar with, the character Willie Wonka doesn’t appear until about halfway through the story. A nice feature of this adaptation is that he opens the show with the great song “Pure Imagination,” and throughout the first act serves as a sometime narrator—he even appears as the thinly disguised “Candy Man,” who sells Charlie the “Golden Ticket” chocolate bar, suggesting that Wonka may have chosen Charlie specifically to be a winner. Ty Rhoades, who has had smaller parts in 15 previous EDMT shows, stars as Willie Wonka, and does a great job acting and singing the part, and has the good stage presence needed to carry the show. As he further develops his talents, he will be someone to watch for as a leading man in the years to come.
Starring as Charlie in both casts, Josh Davis is another young veteran in his 15th show, most recently playing Michael Banks in Mary Poppins. Davis does a terrific job, with a great voice and natural acting ability. He appears in almost every scene as the heart of the story, especially in the songs “Think Positive” with his dad, played by Brandon Bagley, and “Flying” with Grandpa Joe, played by Angelo Aceves. But his biggest moment comes at the very end in the “Finale” featuring the entire company, with he and Rhoades bringing it home. He will be another one to watch for in future shows as he grows into his teen years.
The supporting cast of the four bratty kids and their parents is led off by Augustus Gloop and his mother, played by Evan Haney and Madeline Yacur. Partly hidden behind wigs and amply padded clothing, they lead the song “I Eat More” with the company bringing endless culinary treats, which never completely satisfies the gluttonous child. That entertaining number is followed with the introduction of Veruca Salt, the daughter of a Russian nut magnate, played by Adele Trapp and Brayden Bambino. She makes it clear early on that what she wants is everything, while the next golden ticket winner, Violet Beauregard, mostly wants gum, and to be known as a champion chewer. Played by Emily Hobbs, she is brash and sassy to her mom, played by Daphne Huegel, which she will show off again in her song “Chew It” in Act 2. Trapp delivers Veruca’s song “I Want It Now” before being deemed a “bad nut” by the squirrels—a feature of the book, replacing the “bad egg” of the movie version. Both girls are delightfully awful in their roles as spoiled brats.
And the boy we love to hate, Mike Teavee, played by Andrew Neal, is now obsessed with, not just television, but everything media, and is barely controlled by his mother, played by Ashley Slavin. She even helps him in a clever onstage Minecraft battle in the song “I See It All On TV.” The audience cheers when Wonka later takes his smartphone, telling him there’s no wi-fi in the Wonka factory. The role of the reporter, Phineous Trout, has been split to add a partner, Ferb Trout, who together interview the five Golden Ticket winners. Miranda Garver and Drew Longaker look great in the roles, and bring a lot of personality and humor to the stage. It may not be fitting to call serious performers “adorable,” but these two truly are.
Also lighting up the stage are the dozens of Oompa Loompas, who deliver their famous songs against the deadly sins of gluttony, greed, sloth, and gum chewing (gluttony again?) It’s great to see the stage filled with them in their matching costumes and those outlandish wigs—it’s amazing that they were able to get so many for the whole company! The sets are very well done as well, and mix projection and animation to achieve many of the effects, like Charlie and Grandpa Joe’s “Flying” sequence, which was not done with wires as you might expect.
Roald Dahl’s Willie Wonda is a terrific show, especially for families with younger kids. Director Debbie Wilson, choreographer Kat Bahry, and vocal director Heather Clark have done a great job guiding the younger cast through the big production and dance numbers. The costumes by Karen McConnell, leading a team of 20, are perfect for the colorful and fantastical world of Willie Wonka. The show opened July 7 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until July 16. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net.
Ken Kiunke 7/8/2017
Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Josh Davis, as Charlie Bucket, has won a Golden Ticket
In 1964, Walt Disney and the Disney Studio reached their highest peak with the creation of the movie Mary Poppins. After trying for years to get the rights to the story from P.L. Travers, Disney finally convinced her to let him turn her story into a Disney musical (as dramatized in the film Saving Mr. Banks.) Enlisting new staff writers Robert and Richard Sherman to write the score and songs and help with story development, director Robert Stevens and Disney made the title character more magical, used special effects, and a great animated sequence to make the film rise above anything else Disney had done. While dominating animated feature films for decades, Mary Poppins was by far the most successful live-action film they had produced, and remained so for years—perhaps forever. The casting also helped, as Julie Andrews made her film debut, and television star Dick Van Dyke established himself as a major movie star. The remaining cast of David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Ed Wynn and others helped make it practically perfect in every way, creating something truly magical that has endured for over 50 years.
But P.L. Travers was not pleased. She didn’t like the music, the animation, the softening of her lead character, or how she felt treated personally. Years later, in 1993, when Cameron Mackintosh approached her about adapting the story to a stage musical, she agreed only on the condition that British-born writers must work on it, and no one from the film could be involved. After she died in 1996, Mackintosh collaborated with Disney to incorporate some of the original songs and features, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe were enlisted to add new music, and Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) wrote the book. It was an effort to incorporate more of Travers’ original story line and her characters. The result is a Mary Poppins that is somewhat darker than the film, but still retains much of the magic. It opened in London in 2004, and Broadway in 2006.
El Dorado Musical Theatre brings their new production of Mary Poppins to the Harris Center for the Arts in Folsom. The show opened April 28 runs until May 14. If you are not familiar, EDMT is the high-quality youth theatre company that features performers from ages 6 to 20. Sets, costumes, production values, and most of all, the performers, are consistently top-notch.
Starring in the title role of Mary Poppins is Kelly Maur, and her sidekick Bert is played by Zach Wilson. The pair have emerged as EDMT’s latest leading performers, and are veterans of the company with an amazing 67 shows between them, including the recent Shrek-The Musical, where they both starred as well. Maur has a lovely voice and good command of the stage, and takes the role of the “practically perfect” nanny almost effortlessly. Wilson, with his lanky frame, and smooth voice and dance moves, has much in common with Dick Van Dyke, becoming everybody’s friend Bert. And Wilson does a better Cockney accent! He also serves as a kind of narrator, introducing many of the scenes with words adapted to the “Chim Chim Cher-ee” tune.
Though both adaptations stress the importance of the Banks family, especially in teaching Mr. Banks the importance of his family, this version adds much more to the role in Winifred Banks. No longer “Sister Sufferagette” from the movie, she is more concerned with her role in the family. Not wanting to be in high society as her husband expects, she wants to be a better wife and mother. Emme Sogea plays Mrs. Banks, and does a wonderful job expressing her feelings in the new songs “Cherry Tree Lane” and “Being Mrs. Banks”. Her husband George is Justin Harvey, who plays the blustery and flustered gentleman well, showing the transformation from confident “lord of his manner” to a man lost and in need of help, outlined in his theme “A Man Has Dreams.”
Rounding out the family are, of course, the kids, Jane and Michael, played by Maya Ribadeneira and Josh Davis. As the story revolves around them, they are in virtually every scene, and have singing parts in most of the songs. The both handle it quite well, in both acting and singing, from their opening duet of “The Perfect Nanny” and on, and look younger than their real ages of 13 and 12.
One of the greatest songs to emerge from the original was “Feed the Birds”, sung by Mary to the children before an outing with the father the next day. In this version, it is turned into a duet as Mary introduces them to the Bird Woman, played by Nittany Briggs. She and Maur sing the iconic song beautifully, and it still brings chills to hear it. That scene is followed by a visit to Mrs. Corry’s Talking Shop, a magical and colorful place filled with “chatterboxes” where people can get conversations and words, leading to the song “Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious.” The song is led by Mrs. Corry, played by Emily Martoana and Jessica Garver in alternate casts, who is joined by Bert, Mary, Jane, Michael, and the rest of the colorful cast in a big song and dance highlight of the show.
The darker aspects of the show come out first in one of the new songs, “Playing the Game,” as Jane and Michael’s toys come to life to say they are not too happy about how they are treated. The other is the presence of Miss Andrew, George Banks’ nanny from his childhood, who has come to replace Mary Poppins. She is played with delightful villainy by Kyra Schneider, who hits some impressive high notes in her song “Brimstone and Treacle.”
Other notable performers are Emily Fritz and Liam Roberts, who play the Banks’ household staff, joining in the song “Cherry Tree Lane.” Roberts gets several funny moments as the bumbling butler of the house, while Fritz’s role is to keep the whole thing together.
The new music written for the production is good, such as the song “Practically Perfect,” as Mary introduces herself to Jane and Michael, and “Anything Can Happen” which closes the show with hope for the future of the Banks family. But the greatest remain the Sherman brothers’ songs, as in the big numbers “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “Step in Time.” Songs like “Stay Awake,” “The Life I Lead,” and the comical “I Love To Laugh” and “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank,” will be missed by fans of the original. But this is a new way of seeing Mary Poppins that preserves the best of the film and shows some new aspects of Travers’ stories.
The sets, projections, and special effects are very well done, with a few surprises thrown in, especially in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Director Debbie Wilson has done her usual stellar job in guiding the huge cast through the big production and dance numbers, helped by Associate Choreographer Anji Rose Wilson. The costumes, by Christine Martorana, are also “practically perfect in every way.” Mary Poppins opened April 28 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until May 14. The show is great for all ages, both for fans of the original and those who may be new to the story. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net.
Ken Kiunke 5/2/2017 Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Kelly Maur and Zach Wilson lead a stellar cast