BWW Reviews: Bridgeport's Downtown Cabaret Children's Theatre Updates BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
This is not Disney's Beauty and the Beast. This is a show that's truly meant for kids, and one that their parents and even grandparents will enjoy, as well. Written, directed and choreographed by Maria Vee, who also plays the lead, keep the show at just under 100 minutes and updates the classic tale of how love can make all the difference in the world with some contemporary music and props.
The story opens with music from Star Wars and Princess Leia in place of the traditional witch who casts a Jedi curse over the haughty prince and gives him her magical Leia rose. The audience is then transported to the charming Village of Fromagerie-by-the-Sea, complete with Le CVesse, Le Gap, Le Starbucks et Le Red Box. The set is charming, but never cheesy, and it's brilliant because kids can immediately recognize places and get drawn into the story.
Bea (the beauty of the story) loves films (hence Le Red Box). Her sisters, Coco and Chanel (played by Jorie Janeway and Ashley DePascale) are as clothes and swag crazy as the Kardashians. Their father is played by Scott Bartelson, and TJ Riordan plays Gaspon, the egotistical suitor she rejects. The actors who play Bea's family also play roles at the prince's castle. Rounding out the cast are Lance Anthony as the beastly prince, Ricky Almirante as Discotheque, and Sean Maher as the Popcorn Maker. How do the characters go back and forth between Fromagerie-by-the-Sea and the prince's castle? Why, they do people from Bridgeport and everywhere do: they pick up their iPhones and ask Siri for directions! Looking for a paper map is so 20th century.
The songs? They're show songs from The Little Mermaid, disco, and old movies. What draws Bea and the beast together is their love for movies. He tells her, "I have over a 1,000 DVDs and I subscribe to Netflix and Hulu Plus." Then he asks her, "What do you think of Disney movies?" She replies, "I think they're corny, but they make great Broadway musicals."
In some ways, this version of Beauty and The Beast is like a British pantomime, except that it's not being performed during the Christmas season and all the jokes are squeaky clean. Even the most neurotic parent won't have to worry about his child's hearing something that is not age-appropriate.
Lesley Neilson-Bowman's costumes are clever and often match the names of the characters, such as Kernel (as in popcorn kernel) and Tiramisu. Discotheque's hat is made up of a bicycle helmet and disco ball. Bea looks resembles a tone-down Dolly Parton.
There is a bonus that makes the Cabaret Children's Theatre a special treat for kids. After the performance, the actors, still in costume, hang around to meet the children, pose for photos and sign autographs. What a wonderful way to introduce children to theatre!
For children who are on the autism spectrum or have other sensory challenges, Downtown Cabaret Children's Theatre will offer its first-ever sensory sensitive performance of its upcoming show, Freckleface Strawberry - The Musical. In the meantime, Beauty and the Beast runs Saturdays and Sundays at noon and 2:30 p.m. through February 17, with an additional performance at 5:30 on Saturday, February 16. Tickets are $18.00 - $24.00. Call 203-576-1636 or visit www.dtcab.com.