The tale is almost as old as time. A beast, physically and emotionally, must win the heart of a humble, virtuous beauty so that the spell may be lifted and his unblemished appearance restored.
Early in 2012, Disney re-released in 3D their animated version of "Beauty and the Beast." Audiences enjoyed the new effects and gained a new appreciation of the 1991 film's memorable songs and characters. When I went to McKeesport High School last month, I experienced a similar treat. The students' version of "Beauty and the Beast" brought to life the animated classic. The atmosphere on stage was energetic, fun, and colorful.
At the beginning, the tone was appropriately dark and eerie, depicting the prince's transformation into a beast as punishment for his cruel, selfish behavior. The lights dimmed at the conclusion of the prologue, then brightened to reveal a colorful, neighborly town as the ensemble performed the opening number, "Belle." The smooth transformations of the stage deserve their own applause, as they took the audience from a small town, to a huntsman's pub, to a dark, evil forest, and to the beast's castle, where much of the action occurred.
The opening number introduced the energetic cast, especially the talented Henry Nightingale as the arrogant heartthrob Gaston, and the beautiful leading lady, Emily Rhoades, who radiated the innocence of Belle. The interaction among the characters was charming and playful, retaining the innocence associated with Disney productions.
The show was propelled by the chemistry among the characters. The love between Belle and her father, Maurice, played by Aaron Bagrowski, radiated through their beautiful harmonies in the song "No Matter What." Belle shared the chemistry with Hasaan Allen, who humanized the horrible Beast in his renditions of "If I Can't Love Her" and "How Long Must This Go On?" that had the audience wanting Belle to fall for him and break the spell.
Meanwhile, Gaston and his subordinate, Lefou, played by Ryan Jacobs, melded brutality with comedy in their best number, "Gaston." The best chemistry on stage, however, was shared by Alex Savage and Paul Fields (Cogsworth and Lumiere, respectively). The talented pair kept the story moving, trying to play matchmaker for Belle and the Beast while also trying to cope with their own feared transformation into lifeless objects.
The entire cast deserves applause for their excellent acting, dancing and singing. They transformed themselves from gossiping townspeople into an angry mob and into common dinnerware while maintaining the fun and energy essential to the production.
Unfortunately, because several of the roles were double-cast, I was unable to see the entire cast. If the others are as talented as those in the performance I saw, every audience was well rewarded. Especially commendable was Shavonna Mosely. As Mrs. Potts, her performance of the show's pivotal song, "Beauty and the Beast," certainly did not disappoint.
The show ended as energized as it began. The ensemble, led by Belle and the Beast, sustained the enthusiastic mood. The musical has been done many times and tells a story which is "as old as time," but the energy and talent of McKeesport Area High School's performers and the beauty of the sets and costumes made this production especially memorable.
The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a long-time Kelly Awards judge.
First Published May 9, 2012 12:00 AM