BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Opera House Players
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of experiencing BEAUTY AND THE BEAST performed by the Opera House Players at the Enfield Annex in Enfield, CT. This phenomenal production includes the familiar Disney songs written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, as well as some additional songs written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. Director Becca Coolong, musical director Devon Bakum, and choreographer Krista Brueno combine their strong talents to bring out the best in this amazing ensemble cast who gel together perfectly with excellent stage chemistry.
The set is very elaborate, including two stories of the inside of the castle. The full stage is used, with two scenes involving maneuvering through the audience.
A talented live orchestra, down in the pit in front of the stage, accompanies the cast musically, while also using their instruments to provide various sound effects throughout the show. This works very effectively and enhances the quality of the production.
The show starts with the youth ensemble taking turns narrating the back story, about how the prince (the Beast) and the other people in his castle were cursed by an enchantress, and that the spell can only be broken if the Beast could love and be loved, before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose within the castle. The children explain this with feeling and personality, a very effective way to begin the show.
Right from the opening musical number, "Belle," the audience can see that this is an incredibly talented cast who love performing their roles and radiate positive energy from the stage, enthusiasm and energy that carry on through the entire production from the children through the adults, and from the cast through the audience. This show is a great time had by all.
Actress Kaite Corda excels in the starring role of Belle, with such a powerful performance that it feels as if this role in this "tale as old as time" was written just for Kaite Corda to perform now. She sells every line and every note with feeling and emotion. Her realistic reactions to the words and actions of the other characters help convey Belle's personality, making her a thoroughly likeable central protagonist. Kaite Corda's strong stage presence and tight stage chemistry with the multiple cast members with whom she sings duets helps bring total authenticity to this character. "A Change In Me," is a moving solo passionately performed by Kaite Corda.
Silk Johnson is wonderful as the Beast. He helps the audience feel the emotions of someone who struggles with his own temper, insecurity about his appearance, and regret for his own actions, coupled with a strong desire for genuine repentance. Silk Johnson has a commanding stage presence which at the same time conveys a likeability for this character whose ability to overcome his own flaws lies at the heart of this story. "If I Can't Love Her," is a powerful solo strongly performed by Silk Johnson.
Tim Reilly is perfect in the role of Gaston, the arrogant scheming antagonist who has an unrequited crush on Belle. His singing on the misogynistic song, "Me," further sells the sleaziness of this character, as does his implication to three of his groupies that he is willing to cheat on Belle, with them, after he (according to his own wishes) marries Belle. Tim Reilly coveys expressions of conviction that reflect strong leadership skills on the song, "The Mob Song," a number brilliantly blocked in such a way that the mob marches through the audience seeking to gain more followers for their misguided cause on this hateful quest that Gaston's slick people skills have manipulated them into believing is genuinely in their best interests and those of their children.
Erin Fields, Yumeko Stern, and Alexis Price are hilarious in their roles as Gaston's three groupies. Gaston chronically leads them on, even though his intentions are towards Belle. The groupies reflect the mindset of people who conform to whatever they are told is the "in," way to think, act, and feel. This provides a sharp juxtaposition to Belle who is a free and original thinker, true to herself, and uncompromising in her principles and desires, regardless of how any segment of society tells her to be.
Harper Laino provides more comic relief in a strong performance as LeFou who is Gaston's sidekick who at times comes across as Gaston's toadie, but other times as a person trying to keep Gaston in check.
Frank Cannizzo is convincing as Maurice, Belle's loving father who sings a moving duet with Belle called "No Matter What."
There is a scene in which Maurice is in the forest, being surrounded by wolves, and another scene in which the same thing happens to Belle. While Frank Cannizzo and Kaite Corda both genuinely convey the emotions of fear and distress in these respective scenes, the actors portraying the wolves also deserve a lot of credit for making realistic sharp movements that are remarkably believable enough to even make the audience legitimately fear for Maurice and Belle, respectively, especially since the stellar acting all around has already drawn us deeply into the story.
My favorite musical number in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is the classic, "Be Our Guest," an ensemble number performed in the castle. It highlights the dancing and singing skills of many of the ensemble members, as well as some of the enchanted creatures within the castle, especially Lumiere.
Michael Graham Morales and Joe Lessard are a fantastic duo as Lumiere and Cogsworth, respectively. They play off each other flawlessly, with spot on voices and mannerisms. They provide strong leadership among the enchanted creatures in the castle. Nicole Wadleigh and Erin Dugan provide further comedic and convincing energy to the show in their roles of Babette and Madame De La Grande Bouche, respectively. Henry DiNapoli provides genuine emotion as Chip. Stevie Norman is wonderful as Mrs. Potts, strongly performing the show's signature musical number, "Beauty and the Beast." The six cast members portraying the enchanted creatures smoothly combine their musical talents together in a hopeful song called "Human Again."
Mark Proulx sells the role of Monsieur D'Arque, a villainous co-conspirator to Gaston in Gaston's sinister plot to attempt to force Belle into marriage with him.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST sends the positive message of showing romantic love through actions and understanding that true love requires spending time together, getting to know the other person's personality and desires, and genuinely striving to meet that person's needs, even when that requires personal sacrifice. The Beast and Gaston are both aware of Belle's strong connection with her father, Maurice, yet use that knowledge in polar opposite manners. The Beast sacrifices his own time with Belle and a chance to break the spell over himself, in order to grant Belle the desire of her heart, while Gaston uses Belle's feelings against her, and against her father, in a manipulative attempt to gain what he wants from Belle, regardless of what Belle wants or how Belle feels. It presents a striking contrast between love and selfishness, providing an excellent example to young men in how to be loving, while showing young ladies what they should expect from any man worthy of their time.
I highly recommend BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for all audiences. This show is scheduled to continue to run at the Enfield Annex in Enfield, CT, performed by the Opera House Players, every Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM, and every Sunday at 2:00 PM, through November 25, 2018. For tickets, please go to Be Our Guest.