|Gaston - Nick Nieder; Lefou (on back) - Andrew Inman|
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
There’s no denying it – Disney sells. Near capacity crowds at Theatre in the Grove’s current production of Beauty and the Beast, Jr. are providing ample proof that young audiences and their parents welcome an occasional infusion of family fun in their community theater. Given the number of kids in the cast (~30) this would probably be true irrespective of the quality of the production – but if this Sunday’s matinee performance is a representative sample, then the large crowds are well justified.
As with other “Jr.” theatrical productions, the show is an abridged version of a longer musical (as well as the hugely popular animated feature). Under the direction of Donald Cleland, cast members ranging from 8 to 18 pour their hearts into almost 90 minutes of non-stop singing, dancing, and acting. Given the age range of the kids, it is no surprise that not all of the performances are of equal quality, but musical director Kathleen Lacock and choreographer Amy Nelson have whipped the cast into a solid ensemble that delivers Disney magic with aplomb.
The principal leads are among the more mature cast members, and their experienced performances provide a firm foundation. Dessa Myatt (“Belle”) has a pleasant voice and is able to bring the audience along on her character’s journey through a constantly changing world. Nick Nieder (as the evil “Gaston”) has a commanding bass/baritone voice that complements his equally commanding physique. Demetrius Davis-Boucher (“Beast/Prince”) has perhaps the most challenging role – he succeeds in creating and projecting his voice and character while trapped behind the beast’s (magnificent) mask for most of the show. Among the supporting players, there are several bright spots, including Spencer Putnam (“Cogsworth”), Andrew Inman (“Lefou”), Jack Thias (“Lumiere”), Catalina Montelongo (“Mrs. Potts”), Alex Kennedy (“Chip”), and Athena Van Dyke (“Madame de la Grande Bouche”).
Much of the show’s magic springs from the incredible
creativity of Pruella and Zachary Centers. Pruella’s masks for the Beast and
the Wolves allow the characters to bring the fairy tale to life, and each mask
is an individual work of art (when seen close up, the level of detail is
astonishing). Son Zachary works on a much larger scale – but the detail,
artistry, and mechanical craftsmanship of his set design allows a series of
seamless transitions from village to forest to castle. Sharon Cunningham’s
remarkable costumes also play a big role in creating the fantasy, particularly for
the semi-human characters in the castle. Lighting is effective, and the sound
(always a challenge with pre-recorded music) is generally clear and crisp,
although the un-miked performers (particularly the narrators) are occasionally
overwhelmed by the volume.
|The ensemble rehearses a musical number.|
If you go to see this entertaining show, be sure to take a kid or two along – like a trip to Disneyland, it’s a lot more fun when seen through the lens of a child’s sense of wonder.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr. runs through Sunday, January 25th at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.