2017 Beauty and the Beast EDMT cast list

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
A Main Stage Production

Featuring performers ages 6-20

This show is Rated G

Music by: Alan Menken
Lyrics by: Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Book by: Linda Woolverton
Originally Directed by Robert Jess Roth
Originally Produced by Disney Theatrical Production

October 27-November 5, 2017
Harris Center at Folsom Lake College

Director: Debbie Wilson
 Anjie Rose Wilson
Vocal Director: Jennifer Wittmayer
Costume Designer: Karen McConnell

Theatrical Review – Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

By Dick Frantzreb

“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.

Theatrical Review – Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

By Ken Kiunke


Beauty and the Beast â€””A tale as old as time”—is back. The story of the vain, wealthy man cursed because he cannot see people for the beauty within, is being brought to life once again in a new version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—the stage musical, based on the Disney animated film from 1991. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1994, is an expanded re-telling of the story from the film, using all of the songs from the original and adding seven more. Composer Alan Menken worked with lyricist Howard Ashman in the original, and after he died, Tim Rice and Menken wrote the new material. Menken and Rice later teamed up again to write new songs for Disney’s latest version of the tale, a live-action film released earlier this year, starring Emma Watson. That was followed, for Sacramento audiences, with a grand production this summer at the Music Circus. This once little-regarded story by French writer Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont has become a big part of the culture, and a family favorite. El Dorado Musical Theatre (EDMT) is presenting the show for their third time, and each production gets better and better. (Their last production was in 2011.)

​The show, which opened October 27 at Folsom’s Harris Center for the Arts, features two entire casts; the “Rose” cast, which I saw on opening night, and the “Mirror” cast. While I am writing about the stars of the Rose cast, EDMT typically has two companies of equal talent in their big shows. Nittany Biggs stars as Belle, the “Beauty” of the title; a young woman living in her “provincial town” who reads voraciously, and dreams of adventures beyond the French village. (Hannah Davis stars in the Mirror cast.) An early version of the more modern “Disney Princess,” Belle is smart, independent, and caring, but still dreams of meeting her prince charming, as she sings in the opening song “Belle.” At 15, Biggs is an up-and-coming young star for EDMT. In her fourteenth show, she takes command of the stage, with a lovely voice and strong presence to carry the role—crucial as she is in nearly every scene.

​Her leading “man”—the Beast, (sometimes known as Prince Adam) is played by Zach Wilson (in both casts.) At 17, Wilson is in his amazing forty-fourth EDMT production, and has become the “face” of EDMT—a face that is unrecognizable behind the great makeup that transforms him into the iconic fanged Beast of the story. But his powerful voice shows especially well in the song “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of the first act, as he struggles with his desire to win Belle’s heart and break the curse, while knowing he is hideous and frightening in appearance, (and fairly cranky as well.) Wilson handles the challenging role of the Beast expertly. Behind makeup, fangs, and wild hair for most of the show, he is initially intimidating and harsh, and then becomes frustrated, confused, and easily manipulated by Belle and his servants, who desperately want him to win the love of Belle so they can be freed of the curse that transformed them into household objects.

​And then there’s Gaston, the narcissistic bully who has set his sights on Belle as a prize he can win—she’s the only girl in town not crazy for him. Stephen Knoble (also in both casts) grabs the role of the bombastic buffoon with great gusto, especially in one of the highlights of the show, “Gaston.” In that song, sung with his lackey LeFou, he delivers lines like “I’m especially good at expectorating” and “I use antlers in all of my decorating” with comic seriousness while strutting about, impressing the girls and beating up on LeFou. 13-year-old Cameron Renstrom plays LeFou. At about half the size of Gaston, he brings a lot of personality to the role as he endures constant abuse from his so-called friend, while maintaining his upbeat attitude. The dance around the song, a sort of “beer mug ballet” with Gaston, LeFou, and the townspeople, is a lot of fun, and just one of the great numbers choreographed by Anjie Rose Wilson, a former star and now principle choreographer for EDMT.

​Watching Gaston try to woo Belle is great fun and presented humorously, as when Knoble and Biggs perform the song “Me”—one of the new numbers created for the musical, as Gaston proposes to Belle, fully expecting her to rush to his side. But as she rebuffs his, he begins using physical intimidation against her, blocking, grabbing, and even carrying her over his shoulder. While Belle never seems too threatened by him, looking bemused as he locks arms and pulls her across the stage, the scene does hit close to home, especially with today’s news of women finally coming out against powerful men who have harassed them. It gets even more resonant when the frustrated Gaston plots revenge against Belle for refusing him, enlisting help, and even a mob, to get his way. But Belle fights back, and he, of course, is ultimately undone.

​Helping in that cause, and bringing life to the Beast’s castle, are the enchanted objects, Prince Adam’s one-time servants. Cogsworth the clock, played by Ty Rhoades, and Lumiere the candelabra, played by Liam Roberts, are the comic duo running the household, and bring a lot of fun to their roles. Rhoades has great stage presence as the leader of the staff, trying to please the master, while constantly overrun by rest of them. Especially when Lumiere and Mrs. Potts lead the staff, along with several imaginative plates, napkins, silverware, and kitchen tools, in the rousing “Be Our Guest,” another big highlight of the show. That famous song is brought to life in a full-company stage number, which features the “Napkins” in a Rockettes-style kick line, and an amazing acrobatic Carpet played by young gymnast, Amaya Pangilinan.

​Mrs. Potts, played by Jocelyn Haney, plays her role with great tenderness and a lovely serene look, but you can tell her heart is breaking that her child Chip, played by Leighton L’Engle, may never grow up to be a real child again. She has a beautiful, clear voice that delivers on the iconic title song, the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast.” Emily Fritz as Babette, the sultry feather duster, and Lindsey Hunter as Madame de la Grande Bouche, the operatic wardrobe, are great in their roles as well, as when the staff all sing of their desire to be “Human Again” if the Beast can break the spell. Other notable performances are Belle’s father Maurice, played by Luke Villanueva (in both casts) and Angelo Aceves as Monsieur D’Arque, whom Gaston enlists to lock up Maurice as a madman in his scheme to get back at Belle. While Villanueva shows great tenderness in his role as the eccentric inventor and loving father, Aceves is quite creepy as the proprietor of Maison des Lunes, the local insane asylum.

​The costumes in this production, perhaps more than any others before, are quite amazing. Costume designer Karen McConnell, with help of at least 21 members of her team, have outfitted 70 performers in each cast, each of them with multiple costume changes. Most stunning, of course, are the wonderful outfits worn by the enchanted objects—Lumiere the candelabra, Cogsworth the clock, Mrs. Potts the teapot, Madame the wardrobe, Babette the feather duster, along with all the rest. Then add in Belle’s peasant dress, her ballroom gowns, and the Beast’s outfits, all done with great care and detail, you have quite an accomplishment. The sets, designed by Crystal Crowe, are also great, augmented by projected scenes in background. And of course, holding it all together is veteran director Debbie Wilson, who pulls off these grand productions with dozens of young performers in two casts, time and time again. And the great singing, by everyone from the stars to the company, is a tribute to vocal director Jennifer Wittmayer.

​The opening night audience loved the show, giving the performers a standing ovation. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, produced by Alicia Soto, runs through Sunday, November 5. Even at two hours long, with a 20 minute intermission, it will keep kids of all ages, and grown-ups as well, engaged and entertained. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net The company  will also present a “High Voltage” Holiday Celebration on December 19 of this year. EDMT’s next big show will be ’42nd Street’, one of their audition-only “Encore” productions, beginning February 16, 2018.

2017 EDMT Beauty and the Beast