Last night, I interrupted the marathon addition of maps to my highway pages (I’m in the 170s) to go see Beauty and the Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). When the production was announced last summer, I wasn’t all that excited about it. After all, these days, productions of Beauty and the Beast are everywhere. We all know Alan Menken‘s music, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice‘s lyrics, and Linda Woolverton‘s book. We all know the original Disney animated movie. Why see it again? But 5-Star figured out a way to elevate it above the ordinary. First, they cast the original Belle on Broadway, Susan Egan (FB), to reprise her role for the first time in 22 years. I happen to love Egan’s voice and vocal characterizations, so that truly made it unique. Although back in the days of the LA Civic Light Opera we might get the original stars, that doesn’t happen much these days. Then they announced the supporting cast — true local luminaries like Adam Hollick (FB), David Gilchrist (FB), Marc Baron Ginsburg (FB), and Gregory North (FB). All are excellent performers. Combine this with 5-Stars excellent orchestra, and the significantly better acoustics than the Pantages, and this production was truly “Broadway in your Backyard”.
I don’t think I need to provide a synopsis of Beauty and the Beast. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the 1980s, you know the story. But I would like to share a few observations about the impact of the story at this performance.
First, Susan Egan. Lovely voice, lovely performance, and clearly she was having the time of her life. Limited run, with a strong cast, she had the freedom to have fun with the role, and it showed — and was broadcast to the audience. But the real critical question is whether the show would work with her now. After all, presume she first did the role when she was very young — perhaps 20. That would make her in her mid-40s now. Could she pull off the character?
The answer is an emphatic YES. In fact, arguably, Belle works stronger as someone in her mid-20s or early 30s vs the sweet young thing she is in the movie (other than an odd taste for fairy tales). It emphasizes her difference from the rest of the town; it makes their assertion that she’s a strange and special girl much stronger. She’s someone who never married to take care of her father, and retreated into the world of her books. Most of us know folks like that. So the mature Belle works a lot better. It also makes the one “new” song (as in, “it’s not on the cast album” — turns out it was added in 1998 for Toni Braxton), “A Change in Me”, even more significant.
The second change in view arises from the impact of the “#MeToo” generation. Twenty-two years ago (even longer for the movie) when this first came out, the behavior of Gaston and the Beast (in the beginning) seemed cartoonish, but something we had all seen and could laugh at. Today? Gaston is downright creepy and a bully, mentally and physically abusing those around him. He makes fun of people, abuses underlings, demands adoration, treats women like trash, and is not above inciting mob violence against an imagined enemy to get what he wants. He is, in another word, Donald Trump.
I’ll give you a second to let that sink in. The analogy hit me in the second act like a ton of bricks. This makes Belle’s behavior even more reflective of the modern woman: standing her ground, not giving in to intimidation, not giving into harassment. Not only is Belle reflective of the smart woman, she’s reflective of today’s woman who no longer puts up with sexual harassment.
Beast’s behavior, on the other hand, is indeed beastly in the beginning. But that’s the point of the story. But more so, it is demonstrative of the modern man who can move past the learned abusive behavior and attitude towards women and others to a more enlightened worldview. All it takes is an enchantment — be that fairytale magic, or the thing that actually did it in this story: the enchantment of a modern women. For in this story, it wasn’t enough for the Beast to want to be rid of the enchantment and to love Belle, but to learn how to share her interests, truly care about her and others as people, and to learn how to treat her with respect and with consent.
Now add the fact that Belle is an older women, and the new mature view of Beauty and the Beast comes into play. I don’t know if this was on the mind of director Yvette Lawrence (FB) , but it sure came across clearly to me. Lawrence is also to be applauded for not insisting on a tight rein, and letting these talented actors have a little fun a points. This came across clearly with both Egan and Ginsberg, and a lesser extent North and Hollick. They were having fun, and that makes this show fresh.
I’ve already written about how much I love Susan Egan (FB) — her voice, her vocal characterizations, her performance, her movement. I think both her performance and voice have gotten stronger since Broadway days; she’s matured and gotten more comfortable with her craft and what she can do with it. She made clear the value a Broadway performer can bring.
The Beast, Jason Chacon (FB) we last saw in the Kelrik production of Violet, and we liked him then. He gave a strong performance with lovely singing, although the pre-recorded roar was a bit odd. He also had a good chemistry with Belle.
The comic foils, Adam Hollick (FB) as Gaston and Justin Charles Cowden (FB) as Lefou worked quite well. Hollick understood the nature of Gaston as a self-absorbed fool, and played that up well. He had the strong voice and the physique for it. Cowden handled the comedy well, but was hampered at our performance by amplification that failed, making it hard to hear him during his standout number, “Gaston”. Still, his comic timing and movement was spot on.
The lead enchanted objects, Marc Baron Ginsburg (FB) as Lumiere and Gregory North (FB) as Cogsworth, were perfect. We’ve seen Ginsberg before and always enjoyed his engaging performance and voice — his Levi Strauss is still stuck in my memory, and I love his voice on the cast album. North was a complete 180° from his character in the recent Hunchback. Both were having fun out there — playing, laughing at jokes, and bringing strong characters to what were inanimate objects. That’s a good way to put it — they were animated.
The very slightly lesser enchanted object — lesser in terms of stage time, although she still gets the main song from the show — was Sarah Marie (FB) as Mrs. Potts. Although the understudy, she was a delight to see. I’ve loved her when I’ve seen her before on the Cabrillo/5-Star stage, and this was no exception. She was a bit more limited in her vibrancy in the role, but she embodied the character well, interacted well with the other objects, and seemed to be having a great time. She did a great job on “Beauty and the Beast”. The role is normally performed by Tracy Ray Reynolds.
The other somewhat major lesser enchanted objects — Luke Pryor as Chip, Nandani Sinha (FB) as Madame de la Grande Bouche, and Devon Davidson (FB) as Babette, were all joys to watch. Pryor was exceptionally cute; Sinha brought the operatic aspect to the role, and as for Davidson, she brought the playful French maid aspect to the role. I’d say “oooh-la-lah”, but that’s no longer correct these days :-). All were great and having fun.
The remaining cast members served as members of the ensemble and in various named smaller roles. All were strong performers and great acrobats and dancers. These folks were: William Carmichael (FB) [Monsieur D’Arque]; Melia Bacon (FB) [Enchanted Objects, Belleu/s]; Claudia Baffo (FB) [Enchanted Objects]; Daniel Berlin (FB) [Enchanted Objects, Madame de la Grande Boucheu/s]; Daisy Bishop (FB) [Silly Girl]; Lulu Bishop (FB) [Enchanted Objects]; Aaron Camitses (FB) [Young Prince, Wolf, Pepper, Enchanted Objects, Lefouu/s]; Amanda Carr (FB) [Wolf, Enchanted Objects]; Josh Christoff (FB) [Bookseller, Enchanted Objects, Mauriceu/s]; Gil de St Jeor (FB) [Kids Ensemble]; Courtni Gidish (FB) [Wolf, Salt, Enchanted Objects]; Veronica Gutierrez (FB) [Enchantress, Enchanted Objects, Dance Captain]; Marcus Henson [Wolf, Enchanted Objects]; Grant Hodges (FB) [Cheesegrater, Enchanted Objects]; Keenon Hooks (FB) [Enchanted Objects]; Danielle Jensen (FB) [Ensemble Swing]; Ashley Knaak (FB) [Ensemble Swing, who swung in at our performance]; Liana Leininger (FB) [Enchanted Objects]; Sharon Logan (FB) [Enchanted Objects]; Marissa Margolis [Kids Ensemble]; Sean McCarthy [Enchanted Objects]; Madison North [Kids Ensemble]; Luca de la Peña [Kids Ensemble]; Ron de la Peña MD [Enchanted Objects]; Drew Rosen [Kids Ensemble]; Jade Rosenberg (FB) [Silly Girl]; Pablo Rossil (FB) [Enchanted Objects]; Katie Self (FB) [Enchanted Objects]; Jessie Sherman (FB) [Silly Girl]; Olly Sholotan (FB) [Wolf, Doormat, Enchanted Objects]; Bayley Tanenbaum [Kids Ensemble]; and Jater Webb (FB) [Enchanted Objects]. Particularly notable were Sholtans, Gidish, and Camitses’s dance performances.
Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, under the musical direction and conduction of Dan Redfeld (FB★, FB). Orchestra members were: Rhondda Dayton [Flute, Piccolo]; Ian Dahlberg (FB) [Oboe, English Horn]; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Flute]; Bill Barrett (FB) [Trumpet1, Piccolo, Trumpet]; Chris Maurer (FB) [Trumpet2]; Nathan Stearns [Trombone, Bass Tombone, Tuba, Horn3]; Sharon Cooper (FB) [Violin1, Concertmaster]; Sally Berman [Violin2]; Rachel Coosaia [Cello]; Chris Kimbler [Keyboard1]; Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Keyboard2]; Tom Griffin (FB) [Keyboard3]; Elaine Litster [Harp]; Shane Harry (FB) [Double String Bass]; Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith (FB) [Percussion]. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the orchestra contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.
Dance and movement was choreographed by Cheryl Baxter (FB). The dance and movement worked well, especially during the large numbers like “Gaston” and “Be My Guest”.
Finally, turning to the production and creative side; Scenery was provided by Fourth Wall Scenic LLC, with costumes and props from 3D Theatricals, Mela Hoyt-Heydon, Costume Designer. Additional costumes were from Fourth Wall Scenic LLC, Youth costumes were by Frank LaGuardia, with additional scenic elements by Escape Theatre. Beth Glasner (FB) was the costumer, Daniel Robles did the hair and wig design, and Denice Paxton did the Makeup Design. Additional prop design by Alex Choate (FB). ZFX Inc. did the flying effects. Jonathan Burke (FB), did the sound design, which was plagued by microphones that weren’t working and comic sound effects that were just odd. Jose Santiago (FB)’s lighting design had similar niggling problems, such as performers occasionally being in the dark. The lighting and sound were the only two minor flaws in the production. Remaining production credits: Jack Allaway [Technical Director]; Talia Krispel(FB) [Production Stage Manager]; David Elzer/Demand PR [Los Angeles Press Representative]; Richard Storrs (FB) [Marketing Director]; Mustang Marketing (FB) [Ventura County Press Representative, Marketing Team]. Patrick Cassidy is the new Artistic Director for 5-Star Theatricals.
Beauty and the Beast continues at 5-Star for one more weekend, until July 29. If you can work your way to see this production, do so. It truly is “Broadway in Your Backyard”. Tickets are available through the 5-Star Box Office; they may be available on Goldstar.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) ז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Today brings the OperaWorks (FB) production “Golden Lasso” at CSUN. The last weekend is currently open; it turns out the Muse/ique (FB) show is not that interesting. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.