Sunday, December 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast – Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.


By Joe Straw

Casa 0101 Theater, TNH Production and El Centro Del Pueblo Present Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, directed by Rigo Tejeda, and produced by Felipe Agredano, Emmanuel Deleage, Edward Padilla, and Executive Produced by Conrado Terrazas - the Broadway Musical in Association with Councilmember Gil Cedillo through January 21, 2018 in Boyle Heights.

One has reservations about opening weekend to a production of this magnitude where everything should be perfect but rarely is.  A production necessitates a few weeks to garner immaculateness – flawless in the lights, the special effects, the actors coming in on cue, and the sound, most importantly, the sound.

This production of Beauty showcases some marvelous actors and highlights incredible production value from this mostly Latino cast in this sold-out 99-seat venue.  The music has already been generated and is as perfect as one can get as long as viable levels are maintained.  

First of all, school children that see this production will get a kick out of this musical, the costumes—wonderfully designed by Abel Alvarado, the slapstick, and the wolves, yes, the wolves.

But in the best interest of speaking to the craft, there are moments that require discussion, moments to hit, and characters to further evaluate. 

How can the production be improved?

Almost everyone on the planet knows the animation film, Beauty and the Beast; the musical is slightly different, with additional songs, but follows the same pattern as the film.  

The handsome but ill tempered Prince (Jesse Maldonado) is overlooking all that he has; when an older woman, who is hungry and shivering from the cold night, desperately seeks comfort in his roomy shelter. She offers the gift of a single winter red rose, for a pay-as-you-please night’s stay in the castle.

The Prince, through first observation and possibly odorous revelation, denies her twice only to discover, moments later, that the woman is a beautiful enchantress who doesn’t look to kindly on men who refuse her first request.

She turns the prince into a Beast (Omar Mata) and tells him that, in order to break the spell, he must find someone to love and who will love him in return.  But there is a time element: the spell must be broken before the final petals drop from the stem. Ten long years have pass and things are starting to seem desperate for the inhabitants of the castle who are slowly changing into inanimate objects.  

Meanwhile back in town, Belle (Andrea Somera) has an uneasy relationship with most of the town people; they view her as peculiar because she likes to read while walking through this provincial town.   

One person has his eyes on her. It is Gaston (Andreas Pantazis), a brute of a man who squeezes into his clothes as though it were a nylon stocking.  Also, life has endowed him with being brawny while having an IQ slightly lower than the victim of his last musket round.

Belle, gracious to everyone, has no interest in Gaston.  She dodges him, outwits him, and slams the door in his face.  

Meanwhile Belle waits for her father, Maurice (Luis Marquez), an inventor of the strangest, yet practical, contraptions. Maurice, on his way to take his contraption to market, gets lost and finds his way to the castle.  There, the beast captures him.  Belle looking for her father finds him incarcerated in the castle and promises to stay with the beast forever in exchange for her father’s release.

“It’s my favorite, far off place, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise.” – Belle

Andrea Somera has a pleasant voice as Belle and moves agreeably about throughout the course of the night. Belle finally lives the life she has read about in her books. This is a role where Belle must react to the new events in her life, the talking clock, the verbose candlestick, and dresser who loves to pull things out of her drawers.  Belle should find complete joy or react in ways as she is discovering the unusual. Hunger brings Belle down to dinner only to discover a normal dinner is up for grabs as the plates, spoons and knives each have lives beyond natural course.  Belle is a character that loves to discover the intricacies of each character as though she were discovering new things in books.  But at times, Somera gets lost between the plates and dishes without fully exploring the wonderment around her. Not to take away from her beautiful voice, she should expand to round out the character.   

Omar Mata does well as the Beast. This is a role in which Mata could let loose, bring more power to the character, and use his vocal prowess.  The cape he wears could be used to instill fear and promote power. One just felt that Mata was brushing the surface of his fantastic bestiality. Tall and strapping, he is hunched over, fingers crooked as though the claws were manifesting itself, without a critical purpose and moving in unspecified directions. There’s also more to be had in emotional commitment, his moral discontent, discovering what he does right, and how he fails miserably when trying to woe the girl (the bowl of soup).  Now, the relationship between he and the love interest needs to find a stronger emotional core, one that truly tugs at the heartstrings in the final moments.  Which is not to say to start afresh, just add to whatever is needed to make the character stronger, appealing, and sympathetic.  The objective is to win the girl before the last petal falls from the stem. The time element is not fully realized and must be in the back of his mind the moment he steps out onto the stage. The Beast must call out in pain after the wolf scene to bring her to his side. The conflict is his own beastly being, the girl, and the other man.  The mask is an impediment for subtle facial expressions and growth in front of a mirror is necessary. That said, Mata’s voice is beautiful and is perfectly suited for the Beast.

Andreas Pantazis is Gaston and has a very good look for the character. The objective for Gaston is to win the girl at all costs.  The conflict is his provocative manhood, a woman who wants nothing to do with him, and a friend who is more than affectionate and would like to woo Gaston away.  This Gaston is violent when love should rule the day in the way he proceeds to win her heart. He beats his friend to bruises and welts and one cannot feel the least bit sympathetic to this character. Pantazis has to make Gaston a thinking man, limited though it may be, one that should be keeping his eyes on LeFou and letting LeFou know when he has crossed the line. Also, in reaching an end point, Gaston has to kill the Beast or else the reality is that he lives the rest of his life with LeFou. There must be some redeeming quality to the man and a way to accentuate the humor of the role.  

Maxwell Peters plays LeFou and is also the Fight Captain.  Peters, jumps, flips, and tumbles throughout the night but little is thought about character and his relationship to Gaston.  It’s not enough to be able to do the physical things, good as they were, when a stronger relationship is needed to carry the night. The slapstick fighting might work if the basis of the fight were good, clean, loving fun and one didn’t see that. The fight scenes came off as brutal, mean, and bullying to an unnecessary degree.

Jeremy Saje is impressive as the jolly and irascible Cogsworth.  It is a near perfect performance with a well-rounded character and a wonderful voice. Although, Cogsworth needs a better opening as an introduction.  

Caleb Green has a magnificent voice as Lumiere but on this particular night was slightly drowned out by the background singers and the music in the Be Our Guest number.  This is Lumiere’s song in the show and hopefully by the time you see it, the sound will be adjusted. This number sets the tone of his relationship to the other characters and needs to be spot on. Candlesticks come in all colors the red lipstick and the white face gives him the appearance of a sad clown.  (Green’s voice was one of the better voices of the night and hopefully the levels will be fixed by the time you see it.) Green’s character is believable and his portrayal is marvelous.

Allison Flanagan lit up the stage with her portrayal of Madame de la Grande Bouche.  Flanagan also has a wonderful and powerful voice and is extremely funny in this production.  Her opening on stage could be stronger.  Her eyes are closed as she is up against the wall for a long period of time.  More could be made of those moments in the time she spends alone with Belle.

Luis Marquez gives the appearance of old in his portrayal of Maurice, Belle’s father, a disheveled wig, loose fitting clothes, and fingers not fully extended. He has some very funny moments as Maurice.  The song “No Matter What” was beautiful and one of the highlights of the show.

Rosa Navarrete is enchanting as Babette looking as though she stepped from the stage of the Moulin Rogue.  Navarrete gives Babette more than enough in character and is funny in every moment she is on stage. Navarrete is a terrific actor and a scene-stealer and a personality you will never forget.  

Jacquelin Schofield is Mrs. Potts.   She has a wonderful voice, pure and simple, and was an added plus to this production. More needs to be added with her son Chip to make the relationship exquisitely tender.

Matthew Noah is impressive as Monsieur D’Arque in a very dry and humorous role. The role and his portrayal was a very pleasant surprise.

Jesse Maldonado starts off as the prince (about a foot shorter than the Beast) and does fine work in the ensemble.

Sean Vargas is cute as Chip.  Noah Dobson is also Chip but did not perform the night I was there.

Other members of the ensemble are as follows: Heather Forte (Silly Girl), Michael Gallardo (a very, very Silly Girl and hilarious too), Judith Limon (Silly Girl), Garrielle Maldonado, Angelina Rangel (who also serves as Dance Captain), and Brisia Rivera.

The understudies were Sebastian Gonzalez (LeFou), Henry Alexander Kelly (Cogsworth), Sarah Kennedy (Belle), and Andrea Ramirez (Silly Girl)

Adrian Uly Ochoa bumped up the dancing about ten notches in this production.  Only 17 years old but he put his professional heart and soul into every dance number.  Great work!

Rigo Tejeda, the director, does a lot of amazing work in bringing this spectacle to life.  The Gaston musical number is wonderful in all of its execution.  It is both exciting and creative (Musically Directed by Caroline Benzon and Choreographed by Lia Metz).  The introduction of the characters could be strengthen with the larger roles getting a grander introduction – something that establishes their character and their objectives in one fell swoop.  And the introductions should be creative to establish character no matter how small or large the character.  The smaller roles need to find a way out of enchantment. All castle characters have the objective to change back into human because, through the course of the play,  little by little they are changing into inanimate objects.  Tejeda highlights that aspect brilliantly.  If everyone’s objective is to become human again then half of the puzzle about the character's objective is solved.

Member of the production team are as follows:

Jermaine Alvarado – Costumes
Andy Ayala – Wig and Hair Designer
Jules Bronola – Costumes
Rafael Calderon – Set Construction
Angelique Enos – Stage Crew
Angel Estrada – Prop Master
Sandra Figueroa Villa – El Centro Del Pueblo
Jecole Jackson – Stage Crew
Ed Krieger – Photographer
Xol Gonzalez – Spot Operator
George Ely Herrera – Social Media
Genesis Miramontes – Light Operator
Ashley Montoya – Spot Operator
Steve Moyer – Publicist
Edward Padilla – Casting Director/Producer
Soap Studio, Inc. – Program Design
JP Torres – Stage Crew
Gilbert Valenzuela – Box Office Manager
Jorge Villanueva – Stage Crew

Run! Run! And take a friendly beast with you.


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