By Dan Verner
Becky and I went to see Manassas Park High School’s production of the musical version of Beauty and the Beast Friday evening, and as I wrote on Facebook, “I’ll write a longer review later, but for now, I have four words for everyone: Go. See. This. Musical.” We were overly familiar with the animated film which came out in 1991 since our younger daughter Alyssa, who was ten years old at the time, played the songs incessantly. Fortunately, we liked the film and sang along…particularly with “Be Our Guest” and the lovely title song. After Alyssa had seen the movie, Becky asked her who sang the song, and she replied, “The teapot.” This didn’t make a whole lot of sense until we saw the film ourselves and everything fell into place. The folks at Disney created a world then that was by turns charming, witty, touching and instructive.
I expected the musical would have the same plot as the movie, but Alan Menken added some songs to the show, including one (“Human Again”) cut from the original film. The cast of about 48 high schoolers and a few adults sang, danced and acted their hearts out, showing remarkable sensitivity to the nuances of the story with incredible props and sets, beautiful costumes and strong support from the orchestra. Nina Tripodi portrayed Belle as a sweet and feisty young woman of will and intellect who will not tolerate injustice and prejudice wherever she finds it. Garrett Alexander (the Beast) understood the conflict raging within the heart of the transformed prince, bringing to the role a lyrical and sensitive tenor voice. Gaston, played by Shane Limer, swaggered and sneered all over the stage, an outrageous portrait of narcissism run amok, while Joshua Hernandez perfectly played the comic role of Gaston’s fawning sidekick LeFou, taking Gaston’s abuse and admiring his ceaseless bragging, smiling all the while. Ben Kemmerly portrayed Maurice, Belle’s inventor father, with attention to the eccentricity of the old man and his obvious affection for Belle.
The students animated the enchanted servants in the castle with wit and energy. Mandy Ayers (Mrs. Potts the tea pot, a role requiring her to hold her right arm up as a spout the whole time she was on stage) minced about pushing a cart housing Chip (Izabel Sprague), her teacup son. Carlos Vargas as Cogsworth the clock fussed incessantly at the other characters, trying to keep things in order to great comic effect. Madame De La Grande Bouche (Rayza Arevalo), an opera diva turned wardrobe, was properly imperious and comically self-centered but kindly as she strutted around recalling her days on stage. Wendy Nguyen as Babette (a French maid turned into a feather duster) flirted and simpered all over the stage, playing up to Lumiere the candlestick and enchanted maître d’ played by Jenna Osorio. She held up what looked like lampshades representing candles the time she was on stage (and she was on stage a lot), and told me after the show how heavy they were. Principals and supporting actors alike sang with energy and attention to nuances of the songs and their place in the story.
The supporting cast played various roles with enthusiasm and concentration. Including a beautifully choreographed dance number as plates, knives, forks, and other assorted household items. The cast included Chanel Ellerbe, Diana Mullins, Kayleigh McCann, Victoria Osinski, Michelle Pollack, Tesha Randolph, Cindy Watson, Malia Hayes, Mike Kelly, Krista Kelly, Colin Kelly, Lillian Kelly and Nicole Sarich as villagers, Allan Jones (D’Arque/Bookseller/Crony), Eileen Tran (Silly Girl #1/Wolf) Katherine Canales (Silly Girl #2/Wolf), Maya Hankins (Silly Girl #3/Enchantress), Joanna Woo (Aristocratic Lady) Kayleigh Brown (Lady with Baby), Helena Schenck (Sausage Curl Girl/Wolf), Terra Bailey (Fish Seller/Wolf), Christina Wesdock (Hat Seller/Wolf). Destiny McKenzie (Milkmaid/Wolf), Dave Ferrell (Candle Seller/Crony), Sarah Taylor (Egg Seller/Wolf), and Blixa Pardee-Spreemann (Baker/Crony).
Kristina Schenck, Choral Director at Manassas Park High School, directed the show, while Kiana Davenport acted as Assistant Director; Trinity Sullivan as Stage Manager; Lynette Vidal, Choreographer; Doug West, Set Director; Shannon McAteer, Costume Director; and Claude LeGrand, director of the orchestra.
We know that adults find many movies intended for children meaningful, and that was certainly the case with the 1991 animation. Thanks to a sensitive and energetic interpretation of Beauty and the Beast by these students, we are able to understand better the importance of tolerance, understanding, friendship, community, and, yes, love, that it contained. Thanks to all involved in this production for a gift not only to those who saw it, but also to the community and the world.