Monday, January 19, 2015


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”).

The ensemble rehearses a musical number.
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.

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.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Pictured above (on the upper level) David Vandyke ("Ryan"), Max Nevers ("Troy"), Emily
Niebergall ("Gabriella"), Hallie Bartel ("Sharpay"), and Marlena Starrs
("Ms. Debus"). Photo by Frank Hunt.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

On a cold, rainy winter afternoon, spending two hours watching 20+ young teens sing, dance, and act can be a real treat. The STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy production of Disney’s High School Musical, currently playing at Hillsboro’s HART Theatre, is just such an experience.

Is the show great art? Of course not – it’s the latest iteration of a formula that began 80 years ago with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, since carried on in Bye Bye Birdie, Grease, and a host of other teen-themed productions. Boy meets girl, high school peer pressure (exemplified by the evil drama queen Sharpay and narrow-minded adults) conspires to separate the pair and thwart their dreams. Eventually love, reason, fair play, and convenient cell phones foil the wicked plot.

The thin story line is held together by an exceptionally hard-working and enthusiastic cast comprised primarily of middle schoolers, with a handful of high school-aged students filling some of the more mature roles. As we would expect with actors in that age range, there is wide variation in the quality of the solo numbers, but musical director Jenae Gregory and Vocal Coach Barb Edwards have succeeded in molding the group into a harmonious and powerful vocal ensemble. We are even more impressed by the quantity and quality of the dancing and the complexity of Director/Choreographer Luis Ventura’s choreography.  The entire cast is engaged in many of the dance numbers, and they display impeccable timing that actually seems to support the crisply coordinated vocal work. The basketball work integrated into the choreography of “Getcha’ Head in the Game” calls for a new level of coordination rarely demanded of amateur dancers, and the one slight bobble we saw at the Sunday matinee in no way diminished our enjoyment – nor did it distract the dancers.

Many performers display surprisingly mature acting skills; a quick glance at the cast bios reveals a depth of experience unexpected in such a young cast. Our ability to comment on individual performances is limited, as several roles are double cast. Of the actors we saw, we particularly enjoyed Marlena Starrs (“Ms. Darbus”), Hallie Bartel (“Sharpay”), David Vandyke (“Ryan Evans”), Max Nevers (“Troy Bolton”), Emily Niebergall (“Gabriella Montez”), and Sarah Felder (“Kelsi”), Caleb Inman (“Coach Bolton”), and Julianne Robinson (“Taylor”). The cheerleaders form a smoothly athletic dance team, but Caleb Kinder (“Chad”) is perhaps the strongest and most eye-catching dancer in the show. The massive set actually seems to expand, rather than diminish, the limited space available on the HART’s tiny stage, and the scene changes are integrated seamlessly into the production.

In addition to introducing young audiences to live theater (the little girl in Row C dancing along with the cast was just adorable!), STAGES is helping to fill the educational gap created by reductions in arts funding for public schools. A few dedicated adults provide the framework and training, then step back and allow the young performers and crew members to bring the show to life – the show’s key message is that kids need to be allowed to grow and test themselves in new and unexpected ways, and the actual production fulfills precisely this role.

Disney’s High School Musical runs at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, January 25th with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. matinees on Sunday.

Upcoming auditions:

Auditions for "Belles on Their Toes", the sequel to"Cheaper by the Dozen" are being held on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 19th and 20th from 6 to 8:30pm at My Binding, 5500 NE Moore Court Hillsboro, OR 97124.