The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Organization El Dorado Musical Theatre
Date(s) of show October 27-November 5, 2017
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review “Utterly charming.” That thought occurred to me more than once as I watched opening night of El Dorado Musical Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. But “utterly charming” doesn’t begin to describe the immersive experience provided by this show. It actually began before the curtain raised. The logo name of the show was projected on the curtain together with a giant red rose. As the theater darkened, a petal fell from the rose 20 feet to the stage, and with that, all of us in the audience knew that we were in for something special even by EDMT’s standards.

There are so many wonderful songs in this show, and they were carried by excellent singing. I honestly felt that each of the principals sang beautifully not beautifully for children but beautifully. And the ensemble singing was excellent, as well. Early on as I watched an army of kids prancing across the stage in such a variety of costumes, I thought what a wonderful thing it is to involve so many children in this enriching experience. And not just “involved”: it seemed to me that they were an extraordinarily disciplined group of performers moving in near-perfect sync in their choreographed moves, immersed in their fantasy characters, and singing with an excellent, unified ensemble sound.

A fairytale like this demands exaggerated characters, both humorous and sinister. And one that combined both qualities was the buffoon, Gaston, played brilliantly by Stephen Knoble. The 17-year-old brought the attitude and demeanor of someone much older, with arrogance and posturing that perfectly fit the part. I know that someone that age can turn on a manly voice, and Knoble did that with great believability, but few 17-year-olds can produce such good singing.

If the show was stolen by anyone, it was Cameron Renstrom as Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou. It seemed to me he was short for a 13-year-old, which made him perfect for the part. But his true perfection was in his comic instincts, including slapstick comedy. Another show-stealer was Liam Roberts as Lumiere, the maître d’. Roberts kept up a passably good French accent, but more importantly, he had swagger and a bit of rakishness that delighted all of us in the audience.

It’s thrilling to see a leading lady emerge in this crucible of talent called EDMT. And 15-year-old Nittany Biggs gave me that thrill on this night. To be honest, I don’t remember her from the 14 other EDMT productions she has performed in, but I won’t forget her from this point on. For a start, she sang beautifully, with perfect pitch and control and personality. But it was her acting that made her the perfect Belle. I saw Emma Watson in that role in the movie version of this show, and Emma is a good actress. But if Biggs could have played that part in the movie, it would have gotten 4 or 5 stars instead of 3-1/2. My favorite moment was a scene where Gaston was trying to force his marriage proposal on Belle. It was a scene with a lot of physical comedy, beautifully staged, with Gaston carrying and even dragging Belle. Knoble was great in this scene, but what caught my attention was the clever moves and passivity of Biggs. I still have the image of her being dragged across the stage without resisting. It sounds terrible, but it came off as humorous, and I still smile as I think about it.

Another thrill for someone like me is to have seen Zach Wilson evolve from little-boy parts to this evening’s Beast. And a very convincing Beast he was: big voice and a towering figure. But the beautiful singing (“If I Can’t Love Her”), professional acting, and the little dancing he had in this part confirmed what a complete performer he has become at the age of 17. I have to add that each actor captured the personality, humor and charm of their part. Each displayed undeniable talent, but what brought it out was the instinct and insight of director, Debbie Wilson. That big stage is a canvas, and Wilson is the lead artist, coordinating the work of many other artists.

And one of those “artists” is Wilson’s daughter, Anjie Rose Wilson. Anjie has been a standout performer during the years I’ve observed her in EDMT and High Voltage productions, and her dancing has always been a highlight of each show I’ve seen. Not surprisingly, she has gotten the call to choreograph and coach dancers in recent years, and I’ve not been surprised to see her listed on programs as “Assistant Choreographer.” In a culmination of all that experience, this was the first show to be completely choreographed by her, and the tradition of excellent choreography in EDMT shows was unbroken tonight. For example, the beer stein dancing in the song “Gaston” was wonderfully creative. And the “Be Our Guest” song showed off the talents of both Anjie and her mother in a Hollywood-style production number that was reminiscent of Busby Berkeley. With elaborate choreography and fun costumes that gave each child in the show an opportunity to perform downstage, this number went on and on to the delight of the audience, which couldn’t stop applauding and cheering when it concluded.

What sets EDMT at the pinnacle of children’s theatre (and I hate to think of it that way to me it’s just excellent theatre) is the organization’s commitment to excellent stagecraft. Belle’s father rode an extraordinarily tricked-out 3-wheeled bicycle that must have taken many hours to imagine and create. As always, Zach Wilson’s projections were brilliant in giving depth and interest to every scene. With their help, we were seamlessly and quickly transported between town, forest, beer hall and castle. And there were times when I imagined the projections were 3-dimensional, and I’m not counting those projected on the proscenium. In fact, there were numerous times when the projections were animated. And I loved the projection of Gaston’s house that featured 7 pictures of Gaston grouped around the fireplace truly remarkable attention to detail.

Another part of stagecraft is costuming, and in this show the costumes were not only wonderfully varied, colorful and creative as they are in every EDMT production but some were virtual works of art. This applied especially to the talking “furniture.” I almost wished they would have stood still so I could admire the detail more. And one detail that couldn’t be missed was the costume of Cogsworth. He was the majordomo, who had been turned into a clock, and as he moved about the stage, you could see his pendulum swinging.

You may think of this as a children’s show, and it clearly delighted the children in attendance. But by far the greatest part of the audience were adults, and I got the feeling that we adults never went more than a couple of minutes without having a good laugh. For the children, though, it was in a way a more serious experience. I noticed many little girls who had come in costume, like the 6-year-old in a floor-length gold gown. And I know the moment in the show that each of these little girls will remember. It was the moment toward the end when Belle entered the stage in a dazzling gold dress with long white gloves, and a tiara in her beautifully coiffed hair.

Of course, there was another moment that all the children will remember heck, all of us will remember. The big fight scene had ended, and it appeared that the Beast had been stabbed to death. Belle knelt over him, pleading with him to stay with her and finally uttering “I love you.” That broke the spell, and there were all kinds of theatrical effects: stage fog, loud noises, and an abundance of lighting effects, including traveling spotlights in the audience. Then, in place of the Beast appeared the Prince, and Belle and the Prince kissed in the perfect fairytale ending.

After watching the show for almost 2 hours, the thought came to me that every single character seemed so well cast. And to tell the truth it troubles me to think of that because, except for three of the key parts, this show is double-cast.  And I see that a number of my favorite performers from past EDMT shows are in the other cast. So whatever cast you see, do yourself a favor and don’t miss this show. It has features that go way beyond the movie. And this production just for pure entertainment could stand next to anything produced in the “big city,” and when I say “big city,” I don’t stop at Sacramento. You don’t have to go far for “utterly charming” and then some.

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