A Magical Transformation

For five years now, we’ve been involved with the performing arts program at our daughter’s middle school—she was a founding member of their performing arts program back in 7th grade (she’s now in 11th). Last night continued that involvement when we went over to Nobel to see their production of “Beauty and the Beast (Jr.)“. The “(Jr.)” (which wasn’t in their program but was mentioned in their listing on Broadwayworld.com (yup, they were listed)) refers to the licensed version from MTI. The “(Jr.)” version cut out a number of songs and their reprises (“No Matter What”, “Me”, “How Long Must This Go On”, “If I Can’t Love Her”, “Maison De Lune”), and probably removed what little suggestive dialogue there was. Essentially, the Jr. version appears to be the movie version plus “Home” and “Human Again”, as opposed to the full Broadway version. Nobel got a surprising amount of publicity for the show—in addition to the normal parent channels, Facebook, and Evite, I found mentions in the Daily News, BroadwayWorld, LA.com, OrangeCounty.com, and even the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council, plus they show up on MTI’s map of productions. Van Nuys High School could take a lesson from Nobel on how to publicize a show (as well as on how to fundraise, for Nobel was selling all sorts of stuff outside the show, as well as conducting a 50/50 raffle. They only thing they didn’t do was sell ads in the program!)

If you’re not familiar with the story, I’m surprised. You should read the Wikipedia page.

How did Nobel do with this production? Judging by the standard of Middle School productions (where the students are there for fun, and few have had professional training), they did reasonably well. The heart was there, the kids were having fun and trying their hardest, and that’s all you could wish for. The performances were reasonably good; the singing was hit-or-miss; and the movement was OK. There were some standout performances, to my eye. Rachel Denny, playing Belle, was a pretty good singer; her voice waivered at a few points due to amplification problems, but was reasonably strong and nice to listen to. Another strong singer was Danielle Geimer as Mrs. Potts—she essentially nailed her key song, “Beauty and the Beast“. As Lefou, Ethan Barker was an energetic and acrobatic actor (although his singing was weaker). Lastly, I was also impressed with Courtney Cohen as the Enchantress and Paige Nelson as the Enchanted Rose—neither had speaking lines but spoke through their ballet, which was beautiful.

Looking at some of the other leads. As the Beast/Prince, Bryce Edelberg did reasonably well, but he seemed to be over-blustering the beast, which hid the undercurrent of tenderness that needed to be there. Admittedly, that’s a hard-mixture for someone so young. Josh Zweig was good as Maurice, but the Jr. version eviscerated his role. As Gaston, Michael Dager needed a bit more pomposity and presence for his role; again, he did pretty good for a middle school student. It’s also hard for a middle school student to pull off the line “and every square inch of me’s covered with hair”. The other enchanted members of the Beast’s household were OK— Arthur Kazantsev‘s Lumiere had the right humor, Dylan Bellusci‘s Cogswell was appropriately stuck up, Taylor Pearl’s Babette was as much of a French Maid as a middle-school girl could be, Christian Laspada‘s Chip was suitably cute, and Jenny Tuell‘s Mme Grande Bouche attempted to be operatic.

No, I’m not going to list the remainder of the large cast. This was a middle school production. There were lots of kids, all of whom tried very hard, gave what they had, and made a lovely ensemble. I do feel for four of them though—Alice Kazantsev, Aria Doherty, Cassandra Cohen, and Cody Laspada, whose sole job was to play statues in the castle. It must have been hard to not even tap your feet.

Technically, the Nobel productions are improving. They used a fascinating fold-out set designed by Dennis Kull; this is the first time I’ve seen a set get applause! Lighting and Sound were designed by Brian Bengler (although I know Erin helped on the lighting design)—there were numerous mic problems last night (which could have been the kids not knowing how to work with the mics) and the lights were a bit too white (which I understand was a change from the original design, probably dictated by the producers). Costumes were by Larissa Kazantsev at Costume Creators and were remarkable for a middle school. Choreography was by Carolyn Doherty. The production was produced and directed by Fanny Araña and Jean Martallaro.

Let me highlight the hard work of those last two ladies: Fanny and Jean. They have taken this from a non-existant program in 2005 to a program presenting two plays a year. They have gone from simple poems and musicals they have hacked up themselves (their Wizard of Oz was a mix of the 1939 version and the 1977 stage version… and then some) to presenting professional-quality (in terms of technical) productions, with lots of middle school kids. They’ve done this in a Math/Science/Technology magnet, mind you, not a performing arts magnet, within LA Unified. They’ve done this with no budget from the school, running instead off of their boundless energy, parent donations, and the donations of those attending a show. In doing so, they have touched numerous students and given them a joy of the arts and joy in learning. This is what teachers should be, and they deserve the credit.

There are two more performances of “Beauty and the Beast” (Jr.) at Nobel Middle School. Today at 2:30pm, and today at 6:30pm. No tickets required; donations at the door. Nobel Middle School is in Northridge, at the corner of Tampa and Lassen. Exit Route 118 (Simi Freeway) at Tampa, and go South.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, but most of June is lost to the college visit trip (but who knows — we might go see “Always Patsy Cline” at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville). July starts with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (ticketed); followed by Western Corps Connection on July 3 in Riverside. July should continue with Jerry Springer: The Opera (July 8, Chance Theatre, pending ticketing); “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed); “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed); Dolly Parton (July 23, Hollywood Bowl); “Shrek” (July 24, Pantages Theatre, ticketed); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed). August brings “Doubt” at REP East on August 13, and “On Golden Pond” at the Colony Theatre on August 20, and possibly the last Summer Evening at the Huntington with the Quarteto Neuvo on August 27. September currently only has one weekend booked: “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at REP East on September 24; October shows “Shooting Star” at the Colony Theatre on October 1, “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22, and (hopefully) Bernadette Peters at VPAC on October 16. October will also hopefully bring The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT. Of course, I expect to fill some of the weekends in August, September, and October with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.