‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ CELEBRATES ITS 25TH ANNIVERSARY WITH A CHARMING VERSION OF THIS ENCHANTED TALE AT WOODMINSTER SUMMER MUSICALS
Gaston and the Beast battle it for Belle’s love in the Oakland Hills for one more weekend only through Sept 10th. Woodminster Summer Theatre continues to produce wonderful Bay Area theatre and this production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST closes out their 2017 season. Managing Director Harriet Schlader has cast 44 Actors and a full onstage orchestra at her outdoor venue in the Oakland Hills.
Director/actor Joel Schlader says, “Between the cast and the orchestra, there will be over fifty people on the Woodminster stage for this show, which (makes) it extra-magical for the audience. There have been a lot of retellings of this story, ranging from the old fairy tale to the animated movie to this year’s live action film. But this version, the big-cast stage version, is my favorite. There’s just something about having dozens of actors singing and dancing to “Be Our Guest” that brings a smile to everyone’s face. Bring the whole family to this one — kids, teens, grandma. Everyone is going to be enchanted.”
This has been quite the theatre season for Belle and the Beast. I have seen more than eight productions of “Be Our Guest” in less than two years, so I will not retell this classic story, but I would like to shout out to this production team and cast of locals for enduring this enchanted castle during the hottest heat wave in the Oakland Hills history. It must've been a hot one in the creative costumes of Lisa Danz and Alison Morris, but the cast persevered as they took on Jody Jaron’s high stepping choreography, with some impressive moves and elegant lifts.
Woodminster’s marvelous production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is now on stage at the Woodminster Summer Musicals only through this weekend. BEAUTY features a stunning cast of talented actors including the riveting Jennifer Mitchell as Belle and the dynamic Adam Maggio as the Beast. The production features the Academy Award-winning score by Alan Menken, including “A Change in Me” and a few songs that weren’t on the original animated feature, such as “Human Again.” Vocal Director Carl Danielsen kept the cast sound powerful, and Music Director, Michael Horsley with his 12 member on stage orchestra, adds the perfect magic with the help of Carole Davis’s clever sound design. Davis’s roar of the Beast, and rattles of Maurice's invention wagon all sounds splendid.
Director Schlader includes a “once upon a time” opening with the entire cast, narrated by Jody Joren who opens the tale about a young prince. The vibrant Oscar Tsukayama appears as the arrogant Prince as the beautiful enchantress, Julia Ludwig, casts the spell turning him into a beast, his staff into animated objects and enchanting the Rose performed by the elegant Meg Jaron.
Disney's Belle played by the lovable Jennifer Mitchell, heads a diverse cast and is the loveliest woman in this little French village, losing herself in literature as the townsfolk smirk. She and her father, Maurice, played by the excellent Joel Schlader who is also the director, are both odd ducks in this provincial hamlet. Schlader has also appeared this summer season in “South Pacific” but takes on a larger part as Belle’s scatter-brained Father. There is no mistaking Maurice’s steadfast love for his daughter. Mitchell’s winning voice in “Home” captures her phenomenal performance.
The town’s airhead bachelor Gaston, is played by the strong goof Will Springhorn Jr, who is a handsome bully oaf with all the bad qualities of a egotist. Springhorn’s rousing number and excellent voice in “Gaston” kicks the story into high gear under Jaron’s wonderful choreography. The amazing energetic pro John Tichenor plays Lefou the sidekick and steals the attention on the stage at every one of his entrances.
Belle is warmly welcomed in the Beast’s castle by a whimsical group of enchanted characters from Lumiere, the candelabra/maitre d', played by the terrific Carl Danielsen, to the housekeeper/teapot Mrs. Potts, played by the endearing pitch perfect Dyan McBride. Both Danielson and McBride sing in “Be Our Guest” and their voices carry wonderfully through the Oakland Hills Theatre.
This Beast played by the capable Maggio is more compassionate in his search for love. Maggio is the Disney sympathetic villain/hero, his voice will impress you in “How Long Must This Go On” and “If I Can’t Love Her”. The two bring such sympathy that you really hope the winsome Belle will see "the beauty that lies within" and fall in love with him. Her sterling voice in “Home” captures Mitchell’s winning performance.
Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou., played by the frisky talented Tichenor, has the perfect comic timing with his headstrong boss, Springhorn. His show stopper “Gaston” is marvelous and brings the large ensemble all on stage with a clanking mug dance. The high kicking, riveting cast of dancers, dressed in Danz’s’ costumes of plates, salt shakers, dishware, utensils, and home furnishings make up the magical enchanted castle. Prop master Billy Sander created some great furniture including the Beast's chair and to Maurice’s inventions bike.
The high energy choreography and direction allows the enchanted objects and townspeople to excel. This great ensemble includes the enthusiastic Gavin Kaneshiro, Megan Bartlett, Emma and Charlotte Curtain, Margaret Taylor, Johann Santos, Burton Thomas, Bobby Singer, Bryan Munar, Maya Martinez-Krams, William and Fox Klatt-Breed, Sophia Tuma, Claire Shiell, Joy Breed, Jocelyn Kelleher, Zach Moorhead, and stand out Sean Mcgrory.
The many huge dance numbers also include “Gaston”, “Belle” featuring the company’s dancers including the rousing: Brandon Masterson, Cai Freeman, Crismeldy Segura, Sarah Pon and Blake Hennessy-York, Todd Schlader, Julia Brunelli, Rune Lauridsen, Natalie Fong, Megan Jaron, Julia Ludwig, Scott Taylor Cole, Oscar Tsukayama, and Woodminster favorite the full throttle, Rod Voltaire Edora.
The three silly girls that chase Gaston are the perky Megan Bartlett, Julia Brunelli and Claire Shiell. Each brings a different type of Gaston gasp as they frantically stalk him. The three girls also double as some of the bewitched objects in the castle.
The teacup, Chip, played by the adorable waif Madison Schlader, the pre teen has a great time in Danz and Morris’ Teacup costume. Cogsworth, the stressed out windup clock, played by the frisky, sharp local favorite, Dwight Mahabir who brings the cranky clock to life. Mahabir is a pure pro on stage and his animated hi jinx is enduring.
Babatte and Madame De La Grande Bouche, two enchanted women in the Beast's castle, are played by the sexy, flirty Ashley Cowl and the engaging theatrical, Jenny Matteucci. The entertaining Sebastian Romeo is the evil doctor D’Arque that tries to convict Belle's father, Maurice. “Maison Des Lunes” features the three; Romeo, Springhorn, and the spunky Tichenor as they plot for Gaston to win over Belle.
What makes this show so endearing is the romantic ballad "Beauty and the Beast" sung by McBride as Mrs. Potts; it is warm and touching. Danielsen as the winky, flirty Lumiere is a show stealer with his Louis XVI candle hair wig. Lumiere provides the show's comic giggles and razzle dazzle.
Babette, the sexy feather duster French maid, played by the swank Cowl, has the perfect timing with Danielsen in his candle stick French butler candelabrum. His suave romantic, smooth-talking charm as he tries to soften the Beast's growl.
Maggie Lamb’s set design is highlighted with the enchanted castle that includes two stair cases that take you to the Beast’s lair. Belle’s castle bedroom includes a wonderful stained glass window created by Lamb. The village is a bit frumpy but colorful, and prop masters Billy Sander’s and Danz created a workable invention cart/bike for Maurice, and double duty director actor Joel Schlader rides the bike with flair on the huge Woodminster stage.
The closing song “Transformation” with Belle and the Beast will move you to tears. The weeknight crowd roared with approval after the thrilling numbers “The Mob Song” and “The Battle” that kept the second act moving well.
Lighting designer Jon Gourdine uses his crafty skills to light this stage, but are seen most effectively well after the sun sets at the Woodminster outdoor venue. His work compliments Jeremy Brandt’s fight choreography that both bring an exciting ending in the second act. In this version of the Gaston and Beast battle, Belle swoops in to save the day as the weeknight crowd roared with approval. The production team has out done themselves scoring a winning cast and pulling off opening weekend in one of the hottest heat waves in Oakland's history.
Woodminster’s 51st season included the first summer in many years that the venue sold out their 2000 seat venue during the run of MAMMA MIA. SOUTH PACIFIC also caused some headlines in the theatre community. Remember kids are always free (up to 16 yrs, 1 free with 1 paying adult at the door the night of any performance). Millennials 17-30 are about half price at the door any performance. Parking is $5.00 in the park, and you are always welcome to bring in your own food and drinks. Even with this warm summer - the second act will get colder.
This is the closing weekend of Gaston chasing Belle through the Oakland Hills, and the Beast discovering his new love. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST still remains a classic beautiful love tale. Greats seats and tickets can be purchased at the gate -
Woodminster Summer Presents
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman,
with additional songs composed by Alan Menken
and lyrics by Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton.
Directed by Joel Schlader, Music Direction by Michael Horsely
Vocal Direction by Carl Danielsen
Choreographed by Jody Jaron
Sunday Sept 10th, 2017
Woodminster Amphitheater, 3300 Joaquin Miller Road
Woodminster Amphitheater, 3300 Joaquin Miller Road, Oakland
Tickets: $26 to $59 with each child free with a paying adult
Information: www.woodminster.com or 510-531-9597
Photos Courtesy of Kathy Kahn / Stephan Woo /Jeremy Bramdt/ Natalie Fong