Nancy Sasso Janis
- Connecticut Critic
- Connecticut Critics Circle
“LeFou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking.”
“A dangerous pastime.”
Torrington, CT - The Warner Stage Company opened their 2016-2017 season this weekend with a majestic production of ‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’ on their mainstage in Torrington. A whopping 1300 patrons showed up for the first Sunday matinee, including many young ladies dressed in their Disney finery in hopes of posing with a costumed cast member following the performance. The lady in charge, Sharon A. Wilcox, reminded the older members of the crowd that it has been ten years since the Warner has done this show. The Warner Theatre smartphone app (which certainly wasn’t available a decade ago) contained a coupon for $1 off the magical roses on sale in the theatre’s lobby.
It is the Disney version of the “tale as old as time” about the intelligent and beautiful Belle who feels out of place in her provincial French village and the prince who has been transformed by a wicked enchantress into a beast. The servants of his castle are also under the spell while the enchanted rose is running out of petals, and the boorish Gaston has his eyes on Belle. The soaring score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice propels the story along beautifully.
Donald Birely (director of ‘Evita’ at the Warner) is credited as the director as well as being in charge of the musical staging and his talented for staging a grand production is evident. The huge stage had the path added in front of the pit area so that some characters could get up close and personal with the front orchestra seats. The “Be Our Guest” extravaganza is effectively revealed in layers and the crowd in the tavern gives us lots to watch. Music Director Holly McCann conducts the impressive 17-piece orchestra (with three keyboards!) in the pit and Matthew Farina (the director of both ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Footloose’ at Musicals at Richter) designed the lovely choreography.
There are pit singers and a large ensemble of wonderful singers and dancers; shout outs to the newly married Peter and Nicole Thomas Bard in the running crew. I will admit that I kept my eye on the big personality of Lauren Stango (just one of the stars in the Stango family) as a saucy peasant in a wonderful blonde curly wig. I also couldn’t miss CCSU junior Jonathan Zalaski in all kinds of roles. The Silly Girls, both comic and lovely, are played by Jean Marie McGrath, Cassandra Whitehead, Ashley Billings and L. Nagle. Kellen Schult is the dark Monsieur D’Arque, while Richard McKenna (the director of the Warner’s ‘Seussical’) sports spectacular hair and is at his comic best as the human punching bag/battering ram LeFou. Anne Kanter is an especially grand Madame De La Grande Bouche and Becky Sawicki is adorable as the flirty Babette.
Rebekah Derrick (Mother in ‘Ragtime’) graciously returns to this stage to play the motherly Mrs. Potts and dons the perfect English accent. Jake Kordas (the perfect Wilber in ‘Charlotte’s Web with WTCAE) is her adorable son Chip. Rick Fountain (Jimmy Winter in ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’) is perfectly French as Lumiere and Eric Lindblom has healed well enough to move around in the costume of the tightly-wound Cogsworth. Jim Woods is wonderful as Belle’s adoring father Maurice whose inventions are pretty impressive.
Michael King, last seen as Lonny in ‘Rock of Ages,’ gives a strong performance as the villain Gaston, and it is hard not to laugh at his antics. Tyler Reid von Oy makes his Warner debut as the master of the castle. He is not overly scary in the role of the Beast, heartfelt and handsome after his transformation, and wow, can he sing! House Carpenter Steve Houk comes onto the stage to serve as the Beast double. Caitlin Mandracchia (a Musicals at Richter veteran) is a lovely Belle and her vocal performance is flawless.
SceneWorks Custom Sets & Scenery’s set design sets the scene well enough, but did not quite live up to the beautiful fall foliage that I had enjoyed during the drive through the Litchfield Hills to the theatre. Co-costume designers Renee C. Purdy and Aurora Montenero worked their magic once again and every ensemble is a work of art, especially those worn by the enchanted characters of the castle. Kudos to both ladies on their work on the hair, wigs and makeup as well. Lighting designed by LBC Lighting is quite spectacular and sound by Chris LaPlante was almost perfect at this performance.
Only three performance remain of this Disney classic at the Warner. It may be performed by community theatre volunteers, but it could easily pass for a Broadway production. The very young will get swept up in the beauty of it all and adults will appreciate the high quality of everything about this production. Go see it!
Photo Credit: Luke Haughwout
©2016 The Warner Theatre