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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SPA’s “Little Shop” is Big, Creepy Fun!

By Cindy Whitehair and Perry Whitehairshop 5

Did you know that Salt Lake City has its own performing arts high school?  Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts (SPA), located in Sugarhouse, is an elementary school that has been converted into an arts academy.  Their current production is Little Shop of Horrors, this week only.  Given that my husband and son have both acted with a couple of the artists in this show, we knew it was a must see on the family list.  Little Shop of Horrors, written by Howard Ashman and composed by Alan Menken, is probably a perfect example of a Greek tragedy – complete with Greek Chorus.  The story centers around Seymour, a floral shop worker and his love for Audrey who is dating Orin, the motorcycle riding dentist….oh and a carnivorous plant named Audrey 2. It is based on the 1960 Roger Corman film classic of the same name.

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SPA’s theater is a black box theater and it really allows the kids to shine – both on stage and off. You got a real feel for the mean streets of Skid Row, with the torn advertising posters and traffic noises in the background as you entered the theater.  SPA has always done a masterful job of making maximum use of a small space – and set designer Seth Hampton’s triangular set pieces could be turned in multiple directions to set the mood desired. The lighting design by Lindsay Cockerton was utilitarian. There were no poorly lit areas, but there could have maybe been some better use of mood lighting. The costumes, by Jan Hunsaker were a nice blend of late ‘50s/early ‘60s that helped keep the authentic feel of the piece. The only technical complaint that we had was the introduction to the show was muffled and very difficult to hear.

The show is double cast to allow the talent of this school ample opportunity to shine.  We saw the Green Cast last night.

Seymour, played by Zach Myrich, played a delightfully awkward and goofy outcast.  He has a very strong voice but it was his “Suddenly, Seymour” that really struck Perry. He found things about the character that a professional, Rick Moranis in the 1986 film, missed.  You could tell he really connected with the role and his Audrey – Devin Johnson.

Devin Johnson was everything you want Audrey to be – sweet, vulnerable, sassy, and at times confused by the mix of emotions she is going through. Her rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” showed the physical and emotional pain that her character is feeling as she senses her dreams crashing down around her.

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Joseph Price (Mr. Mushnik) had probably the hardest job in the cast.  Here you have a freshman playing an 80-year-old man, with only two weeks practice with the leads (rehearsals were held mostly in class and as a freshman he was in Acting 1 where his co-leads were in Acting 2) and he absolutely nailed it.  He had the 80-year-old man shuffle and stoop down cold!  This young man will be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.

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Austinn Jensen did a wonderful job as Orin, the motorcycle riding dentist who likes to cause pain.  The character has “Fonzie” like characteristics, but he avoided playing to that stereotype and made the character his own.

Audrey 2 was voiced by Isabelle Peterson.  This is a difficult role because you have no interaction with the audience but she did it quite well. She let a lot of personality through that made her performance fun.

The Doo Wops (the Greek Chorus) were a lot of fun.  Brielle Johnson, Micki Martinez and Alex Burgess opened the show strong with “Little Shop Of Horrors”.  Their strong vocals and tight choreography – a calling card of the music of that era, set the standard for the show. They came out of the gate strong and set the bar high for the rest of the cast.    Their interactions with Audrey 2 was hysterical and the final scene had such delightfully creepiness about it – especially Ms. Burgess’ eye and facial expressions.

A special shout out needs to go to Director Andrew Hunsaker for the emsemble work.  The ensemble vocals were very distinct. In speaking to a couple of his ensemble members after the show, we found out that he had the ensemble spend time developing their own character and it showed. We did not see signers standing on stage waiting for their cue – we saw individuals going about their business on that one block of the street. It was that kind of attention to detail that really made this show sparkle.

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Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a “high school” production.  These kids may be in high school, but SPA’s Little Shop of Horrors is as polished a production as you will see in this valley.  Treat yourself to this slice of 1950’s fun – but hurry.  It only runs through Saturday night.

Salt Lake Performing Arts Academy presents Little Shop of Horrors by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.  Remaining performances are Friday, Saturday and Monday night at 7pm at the school 2291 S. 2000 E. Salt Lake City, UT 84106.  Tickets can be purchased in advance for $10.00 or $12.00 (General Admission) at the door.  VIP seating can be purchased in advance for $15.00 or $18.00 at the door and Student Admission is $10.00

http://www.saltlakespa.org/

Tickets: https://www.showtix4u.com/boxoffice.php?submit=Search+for+Events&begin=1542968&current_client=0400006912311585

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