Small Town Musical A Big Hit (April 2011)

28 11 2011

Laura Marshall
April 4, 2011
S. Barnes, AJRL 475
Assignment: Live performance
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7:06 pm.   Flitting flutes and swooping clarinets crafted a sprightly introduction to Chateaugay Central School’s spring musical, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Friday night. The first notes of the show starkly contrasted the cruel opening scene, in which the paltry prince shuns a powerful enchantress disguised as a haggard beggar.

7:10 pm.   Flecks of flame fell from above the painted set, signaling the prince’s change from man to beast. As high school musicals go, pyrotechnics are some sophisticated stuff!

Eleventh-grader Morgan Simonsen certainly looks the part for her role as Belle, committing so far as to cut and dye her long blonde hair to a shoulder-length, muted brown. She is new to CCS this year and will certainly be an asset to their future productions, as she has more than a half dozen characters on her theatrical resume.

Simonsen’s first song, “Belle,” has significant support from the chorus of townspeople. She seemed to struggle, retreating to a sing-talk rather than attempt some of the higher or longer notes you’d expect. Simonsen is no Susan Egan, the Tony-winning actress who originated the role on Broadway, but she is miles better than the plethora of Rebecca Black’s found on YouTube.

Brian Ashline, a senior, and Joshua Trombley, an eighth-grader, are a wonderful pair as Gaston and Lefou. The singing voice of an actor is as important to presenting a convincing character as the costume styling, and Ashline didn’t disappoint. I was expecting Peter Brady, and James Earl Jones came out. His voice is deep and full, with good natural tone. His hyper-masculine goon of a character is rounded out by a charming little lisp and excellent comedic timing.

Trombley, who supported last year’s The Sound of Music production from the orchestra, absolutely beams in his duets with Ashline. The young man fully committed to the physical comedy required for this role and does his best to match the vocals of his fellow castmates ¾ though his age makes him more of a sniveling sidekick than the sleazy co-conspirator known from the 1991 animated film.

Pubescent boys aren’t always the most rhythmic or coordinated, but during “Gaston” in the local tavern the male ensemble pulls off a stunning kickline-esq routine, weaving their arms and drinking cups. The euphonium, a tenor cousin of the tuba, swags in and plops about like the ballet hippos of Fantasia, while clarinets punch sharply between clinks from the metal mugs on stage.

Arguably the most known song in Beauty and the Beast is “Be Our Guest.” The CCS version of the sequence was well choreographed and executed by the supporting cast of Lumiere (Isaac Kinney, a freshman) and Mrs. Potts (Kayla Trainer, a junior). Kinney did a wonderful French accent as the mischievous candelabra, but efforts to carry it through his singing make it obviously unnatural and held him back overall. Trainer opened up her voice nicely, and controlled her breathing better than anyone else in the play, not huffing or puffing into her mic during or after a lyric.

The band, who work as hard or harder than the actors, sounded over rehearsed and labored on this iconic number. The pianist, CCS student Katelyn Legacy, gets lost in the festivity, trailing the rest of the musicians at times.

When the Beast’s solo “If I Can’t Love Her” came at the end of Act I, senior Alex Lamica shed his hunched traipse and guttural shout, replacing the brutish presence with one of vulnerability and angst.

Lamica’s voice is beautiful, there is no other way to put it. He has brought audiences to tears in past vocal performances with Half Past Seven, a select choral group. Even with layers of spirit gum and facial prosthetics Lamica shines; you can see him concentrate on the approaching notes and annunciating his words.

8:22 pm.   Intermission begins and the absurdly close Franklin County residents mull about the 400-seat auditorium. Parents congratulated each other, the stage crew spilled from backstage to gossip with friends about missed cues and forgotten props, and children begged for money to buy a cookie or souvenir.

8:45 pm.   The house lights blink and the band starts up again. Violinist Amber Nezezon seems to be in charge, instead of conductor Gayle Peryea. The cymbals, flutes and sax follow behind the soothing sway and dip of strings.

The turning point of Beauty and the Beast is when Belle is released from the castle to find her sick father, only to be confronted in the woods by hungry wolves. The Beast comes to save her, a fairly suspenseful struggle as children’s stories go. The musical accompaniment here is breezy, as if unconcerned with whether the Beast is going to defeat the five attacking hounds.

Simonsen earned all the clamor there was over her at intermission during “A Change In Me.” Reflective and fluid, this girl is make-it-to-Hollywood-week-on-“American Idol” good.

The climactic “Mob Song” gave me chills ¾ and it had to be the singing, not a draft, because the packed house was a muggy 80 degrees by the time the curtain fell. This group number had intricate, synchronous choreography and a purposeful, percussion-heavy accompaniment. The struggle to “kill the Beast, kill the Beast” broke as Gaston was thrust offstage, and the da-da-daa-dadumm notes of the “Beauty and the Beast” theme crept in as the spell was reversed, transforming beast back to man.

9:35 pm.   Following a 35-person finale number and cast bows, the 14-piece pit band ¾ a violin, three flutes, two clarinets, a soprano sax, euphonium, trumpet, two French horns, piano, bass, and two percussionists ¾ played until the last members of their audience left the auditorium.

Part of CCS Beauty & the Beast cast take their bows

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