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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The Hills Are Alive at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theater

scera_somBy Larisa Hicken

I grew up watching the film version of The Sound of Music over and over again and I’ve had several opportunities to see the show performed on the stage.  When I heard that the SCERA Theater in Orem, Utah was producing The Sound of Music, I couldn’t pass up another chance to hear some of my all-time favorite songs from Rogers and Hammerstein.

Most people are familiar with the story of Maria who doesn’t quite fit in at the Abbey and is assigned as the governess for the von Trapp family.  She wins the hearts of the seven neglected and unruly children and eventually the heart of the widower Captain Georg von Trapp.  Eventually they are all forced to leave their beloved homeland of Austria in order to evade the Nazis.

Chelsea Hendrickson quickly won my heart as Maria.  Hendrickson’s version of Maria is more dramatic than I’ve seen before and even silly at times, but it worked for me.  Her smile lit up the stage, her voice is bright and beautiful, and her vocal range is fabulous.

mark_buffingtonCaptain von Trapp was played by Mark Buffington.  I struggled to see him as the harsh captain who runs his family like a military troop, but part of it may have been that he was looking down at the stage and away from the other actors a lot.  I wanted to see him more engaged in the scene and more dominant in his posture and movements.  However, there were moments when he really shined. The scene when he was sang “Edelweiss” was very touching.

The elegant Rebekah Osmond was delightful as Elsa Schraider.  Her dancing was as lovely as her voice.  I also really enjoyed Phil Varney as Max Deitweiler.  He had excellent characterization and a rich vocal sound, especially for someone so young.

All of the younger actors were an absolute joy to watch.  Little Olivia Sundwall as Gretl von Trapp was as talented as she was adorable.  She executed every dance move and line with perfection.  McCall Hope Brainard (Marta von Trapp) is a beautiful actress, and Austin Bigelow was endearing as Friederich von Trapp.  Seth Kelson had perfect pitch and amazing volume on his famous high note as Kurt von Trapp.  Chloe Rodgerson had just the right amount of spunk as Louisa von Trapp.  My favorite of the von Trapp children was Grace Grimmer as Brigitta.  Her acting talent is incredible for her age and I loved her voice.

SOM-9104Jessica Sundwall plays every young girl’s favorite character, Leisl von Trapp.  Sundwall is a gorgeous young lady and her voice is terrific.  However, I would like to have seen more clear character development from her.  She seemed to be playing Leisl as slightly ditzy and shallow, which just didn’t work for me.

Another problem was the lack of chemistry between Sundwall and Corey Morris in the role of Rolf.  Their “kiss” was as awkward for the audience as it was for the actors.  During their secret rendezvous, when Leisl and Rolf sing the famous “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” the actors barely made eye contact with each other.  I had a really hard time believing that they had ever met, let alone had feelings for each other.  I did enjoy seeing how Morris’ character of Rolf developed over the course of the show.  His characterization was unique and it definitely grew on me.

vontrapp-family500Another unique character was the Mother Abbess played by Michelle Sundwall.  I confess that as a child I fast forwarded through the song “Climb Every Mountain” and most of the time when I see this show on stage, I wish I could do the same thing.  However, Sundwall was no boring, stately nun.  She had spunk and fire and I finally understand why her character is so important to the story.  And her song was magnificent!

I also have to applaud the supporting actors who played the other nuns, party attendees/dancers, Nazis, and the winning performers in the music festival.  Some of these actors simply stole the show with their fun character choices.

The set design by Nat Reed was a little clunky at times and the cloud texture on the walls was odd, but I really appreciated the beautiful stained glass windows and the garden gazebo which I would love to have seen used more, but it was banished to the back of the stage.  I also loved the use of the hills surrounding the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theater.  And the use of the Nazi flags throughout the audience during the final scene actually made my skin crawl.

I was very impressed by the choreography of the show.  Choreographer Nichole Ortega used fluid dance formations to fill the stage and make some really nice pictures.  It’s also obvious that she really took the time to learn about the characters and tell a story with the dancing.  My only concern was that Chelsea Hendrickson as Maria was often out of breath and gasping for air during her scenes, so I wondered if her dancing required a bit too much movement to allow for her singing.

maria-vontrappOne of the biggest problems with The Sound of Music is that all of the fun stuff happens in the first half of the show and we’re stuck with the gloomy stuff for the entire second half.  I was very impressed that director Jeremy Showgren managed to keep the pacing up for the second half and finished the show with a flourish.  I have to admit, it’s the first time I’ve ever truly enjoyed the entire show from the beginning all the way to the end.

Grab your bug spray and lawn chairs and head over to the SCERA for a fun night with the family.  You’ll be singing “The Hills Are Alive” the whole way home.

Times:
July 5-20 @ 8:00pm
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
Prices:
GENERAL ADMISSION: $10 Adult, $8 Child/Senior/Student
RESERVED SECTION B: $12 Adult, $10 Child/Senior/Student
RESERVED SECTION A: $14 Adult, $12 Child/Senior/Student
Location:
SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
699 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058
In the middle of SCERA Park