Nancy Sasso Janis
- OnStage Connecticut Critic
Waterbury, CT -Bob Tansley has directed many, many children during the past 23 years. He did nine shows at St. Mary’s and then 14 shows at Blessed Sacrament in Waterbury, so he often runs into students that ask if he is Mr. Tansley and then remind him of what show they performed in. The beloved director has reached the point where he has worked with kids whose parents he directed when they were in grammar school, a sure sign that he has earned veteran teacher status.
This year’s production of ‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’ will be Mr. T’s final one at Blessed Sacrament. It is a fitting that at a few performance he will play Belle’s father onstage, because in real life he is the father of the actress Brooke Tansley who played Belle on Broadway. It is a show that is close to his heart and it will be a show that will be loved by everyone who heads to the school this weekend to enjoy the performances of either of the two casts.
I was invited to attend the final dress rehearsal of the Beast Cast on Wednesday evening and I will return on Thursday evening to see the opening night performance of the Prince Cast. Both cast are made up of forty local elementary and middle school students with just a few older alumni and one special guest in “Be Our Guest,” Mr. Tansley’s very young grandson Logan Hunter Tansley. For this director, these are relatively small casts but rest assured that the production is no less impressive or heartwarming.
Before the rehearsal began, the director took me on a tour of the dressing rooms and backstage areas. I saw the room where SFX Make-up Artist Skippy Adams was transforming Jordan Elliott into a frightfully accurate Beast and then made my way through the seemingly endless set pieces that filled the BSS stage and overflowed its sides. Kudos once again to set builders and riggers Chris Van Duzer, Kevin Dombroski and Master Carpenter Scott Morris and scenographer Terri Thompson on a magnificent set. I also got to see up close some of the beautiful costumes designed by Debbie Forchelli (and constructed by a team of costumers) as I passed the young actors preparing for the stage.
The eleven-member live orchestra is under the direction of musical director Keith Wilson and Michael Nejaime was the accompanist for rehearsals. Danielle Orlando is the busy Properties Mistress and her brother Ben Orlando taught the young performers their cute choreography and serves as Assistant Director, while Pat Hearn returned to his role of Co-Director and works the spotlight. Dan Checovetes is in charge of designing the wonderful lighting and Advanced Lighting and Sound Solutions makes sure that the children can be heard by everyone in the audience.
This year’s production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is dedicated to Rev. Jeremiah Murasso, who was the beloved pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church and always supported the children’s theater program. Father Murasso was recently transferred to another parish and will be greatly missed by the Blessed Sacrament community.
The members of the Beast Cast did a great job of bringing to life the story of Belle. Gabrielle Saucier has matured into the role of Belle; her acting was spot on and brought tears to many an eye when she sang “Home” in the first act. Mr. Elliot was a forceful Beast and navigated the challenges of his costume and makeup very well.
Katherine Brown had challenges of her own with her magnificent Mrs. Potts costume which emitted steam out of her teapot spout and she handled them well. RJ Damato was a fine Cogsworth the clock and Robbie Altamirano was a charming and very French Lumiere. Benjamin Dressel took many a pratfall as LeFou with superb comic timing and Emma Denihan was the flirty Babette. Ana Coyanda-Parkzes played the wardrobe Madame Bouche and the adoring Silly Girls were aptly played by Ava Mullin, Natalie Hodak, Lauren McDuff and Sophia Modica. Christian Welcome plays Monsieur D’Arque with both casts,
College student Travis Karas (who was so funny as Captain Hook in ‘Peter Pan’) almost steals the show in the role of Gaston. Whether he is pushing around LeFou or simply being a buffoon, I couldn’t help but smile whenever he was on the stage and I loved hearing him sing. Ronald McNerney plays the prince with both casts and Theo Sevilla is Maurice when Mr. Tansley isn’t covering the role. Don’t miss the small group of young students that play enchanted members of Beast’s household and could not be more charming. Some older students play townspeople and some young men are a pack of scary wolves.
I loved how the impressive sets are revealed in stages and it was fun to watch the crew reset the stage for the various scenes. “Be Our Guest” is of course a showstopper, and the transformation of Beast was quite impressive. The production values of a Bob Tansley show are always first rate and this final production with BSS will be one that I will never forget.
The Beast Cast will perform on Friday at 7:00, Saturday at 1:00 and Sunday at 6:00. The Prince Cast gets to do opening night on Thursday at 7:00, Saturday at 7:00 and Sunday at 1:00. Show are in the Blessed Sacrament School auditorium on Robbins Street in Waterbury. Tickets are $10 for children and $15 for adults.
Photo by Nancy Sasso Janis