Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel
Summer has just begun and with it the fun of summer time productions. What better show to shake off the dreariness of the rain filled past few months than Disney’s Beauty and the Beast produced by Spark Theatre Company.
Disney’s version of this 1740 French fairy tale was first made into an animated movie in 1991, the first animated movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture at The Academy Awards. The fantastic score by the iconic team consisting of Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and Howard Ashman also won the Oscar for best score, making the film’s jump to Broadway an immediate and natural success in 1994. It has since remained one of the most popular Disney franchises, being made into a live action film in 2017 starring Emma Watson as Belle.
Before I dig into the performance at hand, I must say that this company’s signature pre-curtain tradition, a nod to its namesake, is a very nice touch. If you haven’t seen one of their shows, go to one and see what I mean!
With a wide range of fun and endearing characters paired with near perfect musical theatre storytelling, it is no wonder that Beauty and the Beast has become a staple of high school and community theatre programs. The show begins with an ominous narration that lays down all the exposition. Instead of having actors act out the narration, this production utilized a large screen with quite lovely original animation by Alysia Mentula. Her work can also be seen on the sharp looking programs and posters around town.
This large cast consisted of a wonderful mix of ages and choruses, as it were. There is everything from a quartet of “Silly Girls” (Starla Clark, Andrea Gates, Shannon Montgomery, Audreanna Symon), who brought a dose of welcome energy to the village, to a herd of adorable sheep (played by a cast of small children at the top of the show). Kat Kaza as Belle and Aaron Furman as The Beast demonstrated a great range of dance and vocal abilities in their leading roles. The absolute standout performances of this show go to Amber Taylor as Lumiere and Tessa Watson as Cogsworth; dialect, posturing, stage presence, chemistry, all tens across the board from me to these two ladies. Great work!
With such a deep and large stage to fill, the set designs for different scenes varied greatly. The lighting and set design for scenes within the enchanted castle were certainly satisfying. A selection of costumes were really wonderful, especially Mrs. Potts (Ann Oravetz), a lovely rotund and decorative teapot. Oravetz also did a solid performance of the titular song during the memorable ballroom dance.
With such a large space and large cast and the use of musical tracks as opposed to a live pit, timing and sound levels were unfortunately off at times. As an actor who has had to perform with canned music, I understand what a challenge it is to work with, but it is often a matter of necessity to use. If there is any way more sound could be pumped out to the house without causing feedback, the audience and the performers might feel more at ease and surrounded by the music.
I remember fondly the summers I spent performing in shows like this one, and to know that kids, of all ages, are getting to have that kind of fun on stage is pretty neat and certainly makes for an entertaining show.
Beauty and the Beast by Spark Theatre Company is being performed at the Swartz Creek Performing Arts Center this weekend only. It is 100% perfect for families, especially ones with little princesses or Disney fans!
You can purchase tickets online (https://www.ticketpeak.com/Findyourtix) or at the door.