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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Peter and the Starcatcher at Magna’s Empress Theatre is full of Hilarity and Magic

Pter and the Startcatcher at The Empress TheatreBy Bridges Sayers

The Empress Theater is currently tackling the brilliant original story: Peter and the Starcatcher. The Tony-award winning musical spins a gorgeous tale of how a young orphan becomes the fantastic Peter Pan. Based on the beloved children’s book, Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson, this musical intertwines hilarious characters, brilliant storytelling, and avid imagination to weave a truly magical story.

Located in Magna, the Empress Theatre has been a staple for all types of theater lovers since its opening in 1916, when it originally served as a Burlesque theater for local miners. Now a far cry from its early beginnings, the Empress Theatre presents brilliant shows for audience members across the state.

When you first pull up to the venue, the lovely façade suggests a bright, fun, energetic atmosphere. The show you find inside definitely does not fall short of these expectations. My boyfriend Aaron and I went to see the show on Friday night, full of excitement and anticipation. I have seen several shows at the Empress Theatre before, and as such, I was thrilled to bring him along to the intimate, enjoyable setting. I knew this show would be perfect for the stage at the Empress, and it certainly was.

From the very beginning, Arielle Strickland (Molly) is a true delight. She sold herself as a precocious, stubborn 13-year-old. Her stage presence is phenomenal, and even when she wasn’t the main focus of the scene, I found my eyes drawn to her. She always exuded the energy and wit necessary for the role, and I thoroughly enjoyed her performance. Her relationship with Kory Koontz (Lord Aster) was wonderful and sweet. I loved the two of them together, though Koontz was also great as a standalone performer.

The Cast of Peter and the StarcatcherAnother clear standout is Anthony Lovato (Black Stache.) His comedic timing was simply brilliant—I was wiping tears from my eyes from laughing so hard at points. His gaudy stache only served to further his lovely characterization. Though Black Stache is the villain of the show, his performance made him the person that you love to hate. I particularly loved his chemistry with the phenomenal Glen Carpenter (Smee.) Aaron and I both agreed that the two of them together were magical—a truly wonderful casting choice by director Michelle Groves.

A surprising show-stealer is Christopher Gallacher (Mrs. Bumbrake/Teacher.) Any time he was on the stage, I couldn’t keep from laughing til my stomach ached. He had excellent comedic timing, and made a usually minor role unforgettable. He and Kaelob Berger (Alf) made a wonderful pair onstage, and their interactions wonderfully complimented the already scripted hilarity. Their performance together was truly spectacular.

The orphan boys together create a wonderful trio of fun, and absolutely embody the characteristics of 13-year-old boys. Jose Hernandez (Ted) is simply delightful to watch, and his never-ending hunger is a fun addition to the show. Dalton Adams (Prentiss) captures the stubbornness and willfulness of a 13-year-old boy so perfectly. The leader of the trio, Garrett Gunnell (Boy/Peter) blossoms beautifully throughout the show. His character arc is pure magic.

Peter and the Starcatcher at The Empress TheatreI have to say, though, that my very favorite person on stage is Madman Madriaga (Grempkin/Mack/Sanchez/Prawn.) You would think that, with so many characters, they would start to blend together. The opposite is actually true. Each character he played was so distinct from the others that it took me several scenes to realize it was the same actor playing them. Even the smallest role, Sanchez, was portrayed so fully. He dedicated himself to each role individually, and brought such fun and enjoyment to them. I particularly loved his facial expressions and physicality. He never held anything back and was a true joy to watch

Overall, the show is truly fun and enjoyable. I was surprised by how much I laughed. Peter and the Starcatcher is known for being very different, and the Empress does an amazing job of highlighting its individuality. Director Michelle Groves does an amazing job of staying true to the uniqueness of the show though bringing in her own twists and turns. Her own imagination is apparent and brought out my own inner child while I watched this delightful production. The creativity used throughout the show was just perfect, and I definitely commend her for leading the cast so strongly through what can be a very complicated show to produce.

Right on par with the creativity is costume designer Karen Chatterton. She captured the essence of the show with her fun, innovative costumes. The mermaid costumes were my absolute favorite and made the show even more magical. Her costumes paired wonderfully with the flawless light design, developed by Tanner Lindsay. The lighting truly complimented the show, and was perfectly cultivated. Huge kudos to Vic Groves for his simple, yet stunning, set design as well. The team came together with a shared vision, and the end result is lovely

If you are looking for something different from what you usually see, or a magical night full of laughs, this show is definitely the one for you.

One thing to note is that I would not recommend this show for younger children. There is a whipping scene in the first act that may be hard for any audience member to watch, but particularly smaller children. Beyond that, there is some slight language, though nothing egregious. The show is rather quick-paced, and as such, might be hard for a younger child to follow. But the expressive storytelling and sheer fun-ness of the show makes it wonderful for older kids, a date night, or a night out with your friends.

I would definitely recommend seeing this show. It is so funny and the characters are simply delightful. I left with a huge grin on my face, and Aaron and I couldn’t agree on who our favorite characters were (there were so many to love). If you’re not ready for the night to end, there is an improv show following the performance. It was a bit of a late night for us, as the show itself ended at around 9:45 PM, but could be very fun for you night owls.

The Empress Theatre presents Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice on July 1st, July 7th, and July 8th at 7:30 PM with 2:00 PM Matinees on July 1st and July 8th. Tickets are $10 each online, or $12 at the door. The Empress Theatre is located at 9104 W 2700 S, Magna, Utah 84044.

For more information, or to purchase your own tickets, please visit https://www.empresstheatre.com or call their Box Office at 801-347-7373. You can also find more information about the Empress Theatre by visiting their Facebook page.