Eleven Charlotte-area high school students are competing in the new theater criticism category of the Blumey Awards, the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ annual musical theater awards program (read more about that here.) Each student writes three reviews; the following is one entry:
Entering the auditorium of Nation Ford High School on March 15, I had no idea how a group of high school students would pull off a story as elaborate and as renowned as Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Fortunately for me, the members of the school’s Performing Arts Company were well prepared for the challenge. From the ornate backdrops to the lively musical numbers, the cast captured all of the zest that makes the famous tale of girl meets beast a celebrated favorite.
“Beauty and the Beast” tells the story of the beautiful, book-loving, outcast Belle (Mallory Mercer) and her eventual love for the hideous beast (Brian Drescher) who holds her captive. Formerly a handsome and vain young prince, the grotesque Beast discovers himself unable to find someone who will love him and, in turn, find someone who will reverse the curse that transformed him into his beastly state. When Belle’s father, wacky inventor Maurice (Westley Renner), wanders into the Beast’s castle and is taken captive by him, Belle offers herself as a captive instead.
Despite the standoffish behavior of the Beast, Belle befriends many of the servants of the castle, including the flirtatious feather duster Babette (Emily Hoffman), the serious clock Cogsworth (Andrew White), the friendly candelabra Lumiere (E.B. Hinnant), the ambitious wardrobe Madame de la Grand Bouche (Jillian Tillery), the motherly teapot Mrs. Potts (Lauren Renner) and the naïve teacup Chip (Spencer Addison and Ben Ramsey). As time goes by, Belle warms to the Beast and a happy ending begins to develop.
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Mastering their characters, Nation Ford’s stellar cast breathed new life into a relatively well-known tale. Among the standouts were Mercer, David Feeley as Gaston and Hinnant. From the beginning, Mercer perfectly captured the lonely existence of beautiful Belle in “Belle.” Additionally, Mercer shined in her solo, “A Change in Me” and left the audience dewy-eyed during the transformation scene. Following the unveiling of the magnificent castle, the audience was introduced to the various castle inhabitants.
Within the first few moments of dialogue, Hinnant emerged as the star of the crazy cast of characters. Hinnant’s connection with his character was obvious and he often added sparkle to otherwise lackluster castle scenes.
Though his introductory performance of “Me” was somewhat unmemorable, Feeley shined as the conceited Gaston in “Gaston” and continued to impress in act two with the numbers “Maison Des Lunes” and “Mob Song.”
Filled to the brim with catchy medleys, “Beauty and the Beast” depended heavily upon meticulous choreography. The work put into choreography was evident in the fun musical numbers “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again.” As salt and pepper shakers tumbled over one another, carpets cart wheeled across the stage, and plates and silverware marched up and down stairs perfectly in sync, the entire room was filled with energy. Small details, such as the use of tavern mugs as instruments in “Gaston,” enhanced the creativity of each musical number.
Smooth transitions, the best being from the town to the forest to the castle during “Mob Song,” further emphasized the amount of work put into planning out each aspect of the performance.
Impressive costumes, lighting and set construction complemented fantastic performances by the actors. The unveiling of the Beast’s vast castle left the audience momentarily entranced, while the realistic two-piece design of the town tavern gave them an idea of just how rustic the “provincial town” really was. Changing with the moods of the scenes, the color changes of the lighting on the backdrop behind the castle were subtle, yet powerful.
Overall, the cast of Nation Ford’s “Beauty and the Beast” mastered the execution of their performance by grasping the essence of their characters, while perfecting the small, yet incredibly important, details. While sticking closely to the features that made the story a classic, the company managed to inject their own flair into each character and musical number. Ultimately, obvious focus on all of the elements led to a performance that left me happily humming the catchy tunes for days to come.