Sandy Art Guild’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a Magical Version of this Oft-Told Tale

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By Bridges Sayers

The Sandy Amphitheater, nestled away on a hill, is a treasure chest full of hidden theater gems, and the current treasure is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Sandy Arts Guild continued their legacy of wonderful performances with their most recent performance of the classic tale of Belle (Jessica Sundwall) and the Beast (Jayson LeBaron) as they overcome magical spells, impossible circumstances, and ultimately discover that true beauty is found within. With music by the brilliant Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Wolverton, this show weaves together the most adored parts of the original movie with some new, exciting moments.

Naturally, the show demands a large production, and Sandy Arts Guild pulls it off with grace and finesse. I was particularly impressed with the Beast. His voice is sheer perfection for the role. His rendition of, “If I Can’t Love Her” is nothing short of magic. LeBaron understands the necessity for both the softer and more powerful parts of the role, and each character decision exceeded my expectations. I have seen this show many times, and I have yet to see a Beast tackle the role with such raw talent. LeBaron left me wishing that the Beast was an even bigger part, because I never wanted him to leave the stage. His relationship with Belle is sweet and expressive. I particularly enjoyed their blossoming romance during the library scene—it is well-paced and delicious to watch. Sundwall, on her own, is a talented dancer. Her performance during, “Be Our Guest” and, “Me” are wonderful. While I did find some of her character choices to be somewhat too forceful, I was awed by Sundwell’s rendition of, “A Change in Me.” At that point, I was sold on her characterization.

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Sundwell is complemented wonderfully by her father, Maurice (Nelden Maxfield.) Clearly a seasoned performer, Maxfield tackles the oddball role perfectly. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance during “No Matter What,” and really bought into the relationship between him and Belle. His relationship with Gaston (Russell Maxfield) is similarly rich. There is a solid foundation built between the two characters, which paves the way for a greater understanding of what takes place onstage. Russell Maxfield is wonderful with creating those relationships, particularly with his henchman Lefou (Tommy Kay.) I adored the two of them together, though I suppose I shouldn’t say that about the villains. Gaston grows in his villainy throughout the show in a horrifying yet brilliant manner. We all know a Gaston of our own, and Russell Maxfield does a fantastic job of developing a character you love to hate. Kay brings humor to the scenes with his lovely physicality and his well-chosen voice inflections. The duo is complimented brilliantly by the Silly Girls (Kristi Gowda, Allison Klippel, and Micki Martinez.) The trio of girls are hilarious onstage and really bring energy to all that they do. I found myself laughing aloud at their antics more than once.

While I loved the townsmembers, the castle-dwellers are the clear stars in the show. Aaron and I bickered about who was the best amongst them. Our personal favorite was the natural star, Lumiere (Brandan Ngo.) He does not play Lumiere, he is Lumiere. Ngo understands the role in a way few do. His vocals during “Be Our Guest” are both flawless and enchanting. I particularly loved the consistency and clarity of his accent—it aided his characterization and never disrupted his ability to be understood. Very well paired with Lumiere is the uptight Cogsworth (Kevin Cottam.) Typically a role that is easily forgotten, Cottam brings energy to the role in a way that makes it unforgettable. His relationship with Lumiere is touching, even if it is full of bickering. The duo is complimented wonderfully by Mrs. Potts (JaNae Cottam.) Her vocals during “Beauty and the Beast” are lovely and sweet. I particularly enjoyed her relationship with Chip (Morgan Thompson. CC Keel plays Chip Tuesday, Thursday And Saturday), the youngest actor on stage. JaNae Cottam truly works to facilitate the success of Keel, who is a show stealer in her own. The whole audience couldn’t help but let out a sweet sigh anytime she was onstage. Other notable performances come from Wardrobe (Ashley Shamy) and Babette (Danielle Nielson.) They both nailed their accents and really had fun on stage. Their energy makes them both clear standouts.

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Director Laura Lerwill clearly understands the show well. The pacing of the show is wonderful, and though there are natural ups and downs in the script, there is never a dull moment. She is brilliantly paired with Choreographer Marilyn Montgomery. I particularly adored Montgomery’s work during the ensemble scenes, such as “Belle” and “Mob Song.” The sharpness of the ensemble is impressive. Technical Director Steve George does a wonderful job with such a large cast, ensuring that each person can be heard and gets their moment to shine. A clear star in the production staff is Set Designer Ricky Parkinson, who created a stunning, comprehensive set. I was surprised by how elaborate and beautiful it is. Costume designer Karen Chatterton created wonderful costumes for most of the cast, though I found Belle’s dress to be a bit dull for the role. However, her costuming of the Beast, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Wardrobe are truly gorgeous. The show is accompanied by a very talented live orchestra, led beautifully by Orchestra Manager Anne Puzey. I adore the music of this show, and the orchestra did a phenomenal job with it.

I want to thank the Sandy Arts Guild for being wonderful ambassadors for the arts—every representative I met or spoke with was incredibly kind and helpful. I always appreciate when theater’s show this kind of hospitality for all of their guests.

If you are looking for a fun-filled family night, come join the magic of Sandy Arts Guild as they present Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. This show is perfect for princes and princesses of all ages. If you’re hesitant to see it because you recently saw the live action movie, the stage version is completely different from the movie—and I mean that in the best of ways.

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Sandy Arts Guild presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by Linda Wolverton

Sandy Amphitheater (1245 E 9400 S, Sandy, Utah 84094)

August 4-12 8:00 PM

Tickets: $8-$16 (though there’s not a bad seat in the house, I must say!)

801-568-2787

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Midvale’s “Once Upon A Mattress” Production takes you back to the 1300s with the Musical Adaptation of the Princess & the Pea

-Reviewed by Megan Graves

Considering the huge popularity of the TV series Once Upon a Time, with its backstories of famous fairy tale characters, Midvale Art Council made a well-timed choice in producing the musical “Once Upon a Mattress” this summer. Though the plot isn’t quite obvious from the title, the play is a creative and hysterical musical retelling of the “true story” of the Princess and the Pea. I had already seen another production of this musical a few years ago, but I was pleasantly surprised by the characterizations, talent, and energy exhibited by the Midvale cast in this particular production. You and your family will surely enjoy the unique portrayal of the characters in the classic fairy tale, along with the inventive backstories for those characters.

Creative set and costumes

Creative set and costumes

 Reviews by Kids

Perhaps the best indication of whether this is a play that your whole family will enjoy is the positive reviews given by children who attended the play itself, and the fact that they were quoting specific lines from the play afterwards, for example “She swam the moat!? Is that all she ever says?!! – She swam the moat!?!” (said by Princess Winnifred, quoting Queen Aggravain, her possible future mother-in-law).

Grace Barlow (9), from Spanish Fork who watched the play, said “I liked the Princess [Winnifred]. The funniest part was when she was trying to sleep.”

Her brother Sam Barlow (12) chimed in and said, “It was so funny! I liked the king (Kevin Gwynn) and his impressions of the queen (Liz Kershisnik-Gwynn). The prince (Tanner Tate) was funny. I liked his voice. And the funniest part was when the prince kisses [Winnifred] and he goes ‘Woooo!’ Another funny part was when the princess was talking to the bird [while she was trying to sleep] and she was like ‘Shhh!’”once upon a mattress cast

Superb Acting by the Supporting Cast

Nephi Barlow (12) said, “I think they chose the cast well; I think they chose the right people for their parts.” I completely agree. The supporting cast was full of excellent actors, especially the kids! All the actors were more than just extras on the stage; they had personality the whole time and were involved in what was happening even if they did not have speaking parts. Audiences don’t just watch the main characters, thus the cast’s enthusiasm made the play much more enjoyable to watch. They made use of levels as well, using the stage steps, etc., so that the different cast personalities could shine even more. It was adorable when the kids were dancing and when they ‘fell asleep’ on the stage steps. A few kids in the audience said that they loved that children were in the play, and they thought they did an excellent job. Having been a music teacher for eight years, I was impressed at how well the littler children had memorized the song lyrics for their musical numbers!

The little children in the play were especially adorable.

The little children in the play were especially adorable.

From the lead roles, there were some super standout vocal performances by Lady Larkin (Allison Klippel) and Princess Winnifred (Alyssa Koontz). Their voices were both pleasant to listen to and fitting to their characters’ personalities. The Jester (Matthew Maag) also sang well. Though his solo song seems to be a completely random part of the play, kind of like the song “Put on a Happy Face” in the musical “Bye,Bye, Birdie,” he pulled it off well. It’s not always easy to act out the character everyone fears, but Queen Aggravain (Liz Kershisnik-Gwynn) lived up to her name and definitely portrayed the hawkish mother-type well. Princess Winnifred and Prince Dauntless (Tanner Tate) had great onstage chemistry, especially in the song “Happily Ever After.”

My personal favorite little bit of creativity added to the play was when the Wizard character said “Lumos!” as he entered the stage in one scene. It drew quite a few laughs from Harry Potter fans, and showed the actor knew his audience!

Stephanie Chatterton, the director, described the essence of Community Theater and the benefits of the actors working together when she said after the show, “To me the production is the icing on the cake. It’s the cherry on top. It’s really about the camaraderie that they get – it’s about the experiences they have during the rehearsal process. As they go from being scared to death at auditions or coming in with expectations at auditions, to going through and ending up being like a family by the time they’re done.  They’ll love each other and miss each other because they’ve grown together as a cast. They’ve worked together, they’ve sacrificed together, they’ve developed their characters together, and every single one of them has a backstory. So to me, that’s why we do Community Theater. It’s not about putting on a Broadway production; it’s about the people that are involved with it.” From the production that we saw, it was obvious that was true and that the cast and the audience were all having a wonderful time and experiencing the joy of live, true community theater.

Some of the actors were all tuckered out.

Some of the littlest actors were all tuckered out.

 Great Set Design, Costumes, and Choreography

Though the set and props were sparse and simple, they were time-period appropriate and effective. It is no small feat to build a 20-mattress-high moving bed. The minstrel had an authentic old mandolin, and other props were period-appropriate as well. The costumes were varied and colorful, and went together well when the whole cast was on stage. The leaves in the Swamp Princess Winnifred’s hair were a nice added touch as well.

The choreographed dance numbers with the cast were lively and fun, though the ballet opening number was an interesting artistic choice. We were worried at first the whole play might be ballet, but it wasn’t. You might learn a fun new creative line dance or two from the cast, though, so be prepared!once upon a mattress cast 2

 Pleasant Setting Overall

The performance was in a beautiful park, with tall trees by the stage, and everything you need for a pleasant night out. We brought a picnic dinner because we didn’t know the food trucks would be there (yum!), but we did take advantage of the candy concessions at the ticket table for dessert. We brought blankets which were great to have near the end of the play as it got colder, and though we were fine, it probably would have been good to bring chairs as well. Also, there is a bathroom right by the parking lot, so no worries in that regard.

Be advised, make sure to get a spot where you can easily see the center of the stage. (*Spoiler alert: What some of us in the audience did miss was the pulling out of a bunch of ragtag random items from under the princess’s bed; we were looking forward to seeing the crazy items put there to help keep her awake but we couldn’t see because we weren’t facing the center of the stage, and it didn’t look like anything too odd was under the bed either, but the kids in the audience still found that scene to be hilarious!)

The show plays in Midvale Park Stage tomorrow, June 17, and Saturday, June 18, and starts at 7:30pm, so if you are in the area, here are more details: http://www.nowplayingutah.com/event/detail/441927265/Once_Upon_a_Mattress

 

Sensitivity and Appropriateness Rating

I must say — though the community theater actors did a great job on their production and it was enjoyable to watch, and I support community theater, including this one, wholeheartedly — that the script of this play might shock and offend some patrons, because of the words G-d and h_ll, and some sexual innuendos being spoken in various parts of the play, as well as the 1300s-like chauvinist language and acts portrayed on stage. Though some children might be oblivious to the following, some sexist language and behavior is the unfortunate bane, dare I say plague, of some older musicals, including this one. Let’s just say it is not surprising this play was written in 1959. An example of this is when Sir Harry finds out Lady Larkin is pregnant and says: “We don’t have to both suffer because YOU had a moment of weakness.” The only saving grace is that he’s saying it before he goes on a quest so they can get married sooner. He also partly saves his character’s reputation later by saying in his apology to Lady Larkin that “[he] was out of [his] mind” after he was cavorting with other women, but it’s a weak apology at best.

I was particularly shocked, though, especially when thinking about it more afterwards, at the behavior of the married King in the play (flirting with and even goosing other women, etc.) and what seemed like the acceptance/ excusing of such behavior by some members of the court that I saw on stage. This was an artistic choice by the people involved, as it was not written in the script. 

The only redeeming quality of seeing and hearing these sometimes shocking things portrayed on stage is the knowledge that at least our civilization has improved since the 1300s, though 600+ years apparently didn’t improve it quite well enough (as evidenced by the outdated 1950s script, for one). The other advantage was that it led to some lively and interesting discussion on the ride home with the people (children included) who attended.