Monday, August 24, 2015

Disney Beauty and the Beast Jr. – Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Book by Linda Woolverton

L - Austin Carney, Samantha Spector, Marabel Armstrong

By Joe Straw

During the production of Xanadu I walked into the Veterans Auditorium and waited and for my daughter’s rehearsal to finish.  I found a seat in the back part of the auditorium, pulled out my iphone, and mindlessly browsed Facebook.

Above the ruckus of the children’s chatter - getting final instructions - someone announced, a birthday!  And a few flashes later, the kids broke out into song.

I raised my eyes from the phone because the song was as though the heavens had parted.  Never had I heard “Happy Birthday” sung this way.

I believe the best sound in the world is the sound of children singing.  Tender on the ears and with so many beautiful harmonies it touched a chord within that stays with me today.

And I wondered to myself: Are these dee-Lightful performers that exceptional?  Or, and, am I witnessing a once in a lifetime event? Time will tell.  – Narrator.  

The summer is officially over for dee-Lightful.

And don’t tell anyone but there’s a lot of little theatres who would have loved to have had the multitudes that come to see a dee-Lightful production.  The lobby was incredibly packed for each performance and there’s hardly any room to breath.

The first show produced was Into The Woods, Jr., by James Lapin, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, based on classic fairy tales, which was showcased May 14-16th 2015, and hundreds came.

Into The Woods cast

Then there was Xanadu, Jr., Book by Douglas Carter Beane, Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, Based on the Universal Pictures Film with a screenplay by Richard Danus and Marc Rubel. That show took place July 9 – 11th, 2015, and again hundreds more.

And finally Disney Beauty and the Beast, Jr., Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, August 12th – 15th, 2015. There seemed like thousands.

The performances were held at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in collaboration with the Culver City Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Service.  And the Music Theatre International, Broadway Jr. Division, made all of the performances possible.

All the shows were directed by the multi-talented Dolores Aguanno and each show, in their own special way, found a special place in my being.

But, my favorite was Beauty and the Beast. 

L - Ben Hilsberg, Samantha Spector

Of course, Ms. Aguanno doesn’t do it alone; there are a number of people on board to wrangle fifty or so small performers that range in ages from 8 to 15 years old. And the end result is just remarkable; beautiful voices, wonderful harmonies, and movement on stage that is second to none.

This is a craft learned and sometimes it is in small increments.  And those fine folks instrumental in helping small children learn the art of singing and dancing are Christine Barocio, Giana Bommarito, Cindera Che, Chris Clark, Chloe Cohen, Natalie D’Amico, Lily Fanali, Nick Freedson, Ben Hilsberg, Merrick Padilla, Carly Shiever, Mila Tigay, Mica Williams and Allegra Williams who is the Choreographer.

And, you would not believe the results.

(There are also a lot of volunteers working behind the scene making sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible. And anyone with a moment to spare is welcome to help)

One of the amazing things about a Dolores Aguanno production is that everyone gets stage time, and even the smallest role is featured, if only for a brief moment. (A star under the lights.)   And being a perfectionist Ms. Aguanno is there every performance, offstage center, directing – making sure things go as effortlessly as possible.

I saw two casts in Beauty and The Beast, the Crepes cast and the Croissants cast, and I loved both shows. And there was something about the individual performances as well as the performances as a whole that would take you by the heart and leave an indelible impression.

And I can’t let you get away without saying something about each cast member. 

L Arden Malsin, Sarah Hager, Evyn Armstrong, Nick Freedson

Bella Veale and Samantha Spector, as Belle, each have a special appeal and did remarkably well.

Eli Rahamim and Nick Freedson were very funny as Gaston and each provided glorious strengths in their portrayal. Zoe Alamillo and Evyn Armstrong did some marvelous work as Lefou, Gaston’s trusty, or untrusted sidekick.

Aidan Nascimento had a marvelous characterization of Maurice, Belle’s father, and Mika Stambler, with her hair pulled back, gave a strong portrayal.

Misha Reiss was the Beast and was very exceptional at the dinner scene, providing everyone with a number of laughs.  Ben Hilsberg, as the Beast, was a more athletic Beast as he pounced from one end of the stage to the other in another exceptional effort. I just wished the hair was away from their face so that I could see the eyes.  

There was much to laugh about Socorro Park and Jules Henderson’s effort in playing Cosworth each giving their all for that reticent character.

Lumiere was played by Eden Tigay and Austin Carney and each were wonderful in the “Be Our Guest” musical number.  Austin Carney has a tremendous voice and did a marvelous job selling the song. The song was certainly one of the highlights of the show and both sang it to perfection backed by the marvelous dishes, knives and forks wonderfully choreographed by Allegra Williams.  

Katelyn Coon and Mirabel Armstrong, as Mrs. Potts, are two terrific performers, each with their strengths, Coon has an extremely lovely voice and Armstrong is a wonderful actor to go along with a simply splendid voice.

Both Ayla Moses and Cate Schilling were very cute as Chip.

(Funny, I didn’t see a “Mr. Potts”.  His fall from the cupboard must have proved fatal while Chip only suffered minor injuries.)

Babette was played by Brooke Rosenbloom and Mica Williams and both did extremely well but the costume was such that we were at a loss to what household item she was.  More feathers for the feather duster please! Both were very funny in the role.

Mila Tigay and Sophia Martin-Straw both demonstrated a lot of poise in the role of Madame de la Grande Bouche and both were grande throughout.

The Narrators were excellent, each with their own brand of storytelling.  The Narrators were Malia Reiss, Arden Malsin, Elena Hilger, Grayson Lee, Bella Hilger, Makena Reiss and Sarah Hager.

I particularly liked the enchantress Kacey Oschack and Mira Saville coming out of their old costume and into their beautiful dresses, and each having their own dance to break the spell.

Monsieur d’ Arque was played by Sam Jassim and was funny, a little offbeat, and mysterious all in the same breath.

Doing a delightful job as the Bookseller was Madisen Matsuura and Anna Kite was the baker.

This was a huge cast and the other members of the ensemble who lifted the show into the stratosphere are:  Evangelia Garza, Sara Herscovitz, Sam Jassim, Anna Kite,Grayson Lee, Spencer Lee, Madisen Matsuura, Annelise Reilman, Caelyn Salzmann, Ben Sanderson, Reese Schiffman, Layla Starr-Weiner, Sasha Framularo, Sarah Hager, Eva Hooten, Arden Malsin, Malia Reiss, Mira Saville, Sadie Tlusty, Josie Winkel, Olivia Andrews, Bella Hilger, Elena Hilger, Maya Matsuura, Colette Miller, Cosette Okker, Kacey Oschack, Makena Reiss, Natalie D’Amico, Ben Hilsberg and Misha Reiss.

I enjoy going to as many dee-Lightful Productions as possible but sometimes I miss a few performances. I did not see the Baguettes Cast but they do deserve a mention.  They are by order of cast member first then actor:

Belle – Hazel Cupp
Gaston – Merrick Padilla
Lefou – Cali Kimura
Maurice – Nick Freedson
Beast – Ben Hilsberg
Cogsworth – Jessie Grimaldo
Lumiere – Lily Fanali
Mrs. Potts – Isabel Parra
Chip – Josie Hooten
Babette – Piper Samuels
Madam de la Grande Bouche – Julia Smith
Villagers – Mira Saville, Kacey Oschack, Ben Sanderson, Reese Schiffman
Enchantress – Malia Reiss
Monsieur d’Arque – Sam Jassim
Bookseller – Madisen Matsuura
Baker – Anna Kite  

Ms. Aguanno has been doing dee-Lightful for many years.  It sure would be nice for this company to have their own home.


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