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March 20, 2012 > Theatre Review: Beauty and the Beast

Theatre Review: Beauty and the Beast

Submitted By Jay Coleman
Photos By Ankit Srinivas

When you take on a classic such as Disney's Beauty and the Beast, you better have the chops to deliver. The Irvington Conservatory Theatre (ICT) accomplishes that - and more - in its enchanting production, which runs through March 31 at Irvington High School.

As a follow-up to last fall's wacky comedy "Moon Over Buffalo," ICT's first-year Artistic Director Scott DiLorenzo chose the popular musical, which ran on Broadway for nearly 5,500 performances from 1994-2007. The stage version, based on Disney's 1991 film, adds seven new songs, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.

For those who may have been in a coma the past two decades and don't know the story, here's a synopsis: A beautiful enchantress, disguised as an old beggar, turns a handsome prince into a hideous beast (and his staff into household objects) when he refuses to give her shelter. As punishment, he must learn to love and be loved before a rose wilts and dies, or he will remain a beast.

Belle, a beautiful young girl in a nearby village, is more interested in books than a vain suitor, Gaston, who vows to marry her. Maurice, Belle's father, gets lost and is chased by wolves in the woods until he finds refuge in a castle. There he encounters the enchanted household objects and the Beast, who locks Maurice in a dungeon for trespassing. While searching for her father, Belle finds the castle and convinces the Beast to keep her prisoner instead of Maurice. Though fearful of the Beast at first, Belle grows to like him over time, particularly after he saves her life when she, too, is attacked by wolves. Will Belle grow to love the Beast, thus saving his life? Is this a Disney story?

Obviously, the show only works when you have strong lead actors, and DiLorenzo has two very talented ones - and a solid cast throughout.

Smita Patibanda, a senior who emerged from the Irvington choir to make her theatrical debut, is marvelous as Belle. With her commanding voice and great range, she easily is one of the best vocalists in recent ICT memory. Patibanda, an impressive first-time actor, excels in every number, particularly "Belle," "Is This Home?" and "A Change in Me."

In his first leading role, Kyle Navarro is a convincing Beast, powerfully grunting and growling his lines, then warming ever-so-slowly as he grows to love Belle. His anguish is genuine, especially in "If I Can't Love Her."

Johnny Poole struts about the stage as the oafish, muscle-bound Gaston and has fun with songs, "Me" and "Gaston." Gaston is surrounded by hilarious characters, including his goofy sidekick LeFou (Kaeomakana Tiwanak) and the love-struck Silly Girls (Gabby Wu, Michelle Yuan, Puukaninoeauloha Tiwanak, Samantha Rasler), who absolutely steal an early scene with Gaston.

The enchanted objects in the castle provide many of the funniest moments in the show, both for their witty dialogue and veteran actors who handle the roles flawlessly.

Emily Raboy is ever-so-delightfully British as Mrs. Potts, the teapot, who helps comfort Belle in "Is this Home?" She nails the signature song, "Beauty and the Beast," channeling an inner Angela Lansbury, in her final ICT role.

Zak Baker, as the candelabra Lumiere, truly lightens the stage with his charm, and Dylan Maisler is equally funny as the tightly-wound clock, Cogsworth. They are audience favorites in every scene they're onstage.

Even minor characters shine in individual moments, including Zarin Khan, who's utterly delightful as the saucy feather-duster Babette; Kelsey Findlay, who unveils her diva voice as Madam de le Grand Bouche, the enchanted wardrobe, notably in "Is This Home?"; Rahul Shukla, who as Maurice has some funny and tender moments with Belle; fifth-grader Isabel Garcia, who is ever cheerful as Mrs. Potts' child, Chip; and Chris Wilson, who plays insane asylum owner D'Arque with just the right dose of creepiness.

Sponsored by Ohlone College and Dale Hardware, Beauty and the Beast features 10 stunning sets by Artistic Designer Beth Zeigler. Master Carpenter Neil Burkhart's crew expertly brings Zeigler's designs to life. Choreographer Christopher Olson staged several innovative routines with the large, 53-person cast, particularly in "Gaston," "Be Our Guest" and the wolves-chasing number.

Vocal Director Jennifer Olson did an admirable job blending well-trained voices with several newcomers of limited experience - no easy task with songs so familiar to most audiences. Musical Director Charlie Rodda turned the baton over to Pit Conductor Alex Rossi, an Irvington senior, and the young, 26-piece orchestra grew stronger over the course of the show.

Victoria Whitaker's hair and makeup designs were especially effective, notably for the Beast and LeFou's prosthetics, and Elizabeth Whitaker's costumes were rich and authentic.

All in all, Beauty and the Beast is a feel-good show that deserves to be seen.

Beauty and the Beast
March 22-24, March 29-31
7:30 p.m.
Sunday March 25
2 p.m.
Valhalla Theatre, Irvington High School,
41800 Blacow Road, Fremont

Premium seats: $20
General admission and students without ASB card: $15; seniors
Students with ASB card: $12
All tickets March 22 and 29: $10

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