Saturday, March 31, 2012

REVIEW: Metropolitan presents Disney's "Beauty and the Beast, Jr." Tonight and Tomorrow ONLY

"It was a face that only a mother could love." You've heard the saying. Well, this was a production that only a mother could love. Don't get me wrong, there were some things to like about this show, but I didn't LOVE it.

The cast performs "Be Our Guest." Photo by Gregory E. Zschomler.
First of all I didn't know what to expect. I'd never been to a Metropolitan Performing Arts Academy production, but I knew it would be children performing all the roles. MTI rents a variety of junior show packages including an array of Disney classics.

These are truncated versions of the Broadway musicals that come with just about everything you need to put on a show but the set, costume and props, but you can even rent some of those.

I admit, I'm not a big fan of amateur kid shows, especially when I have to shell out more than five bucks to see one (this was nearly $12 with the ticket fee). They don't tend to be all that good and to really get jazzed you need to know someone in the to-do. I didn't.

And yet, this production had some charm. The chorus numbers were very nice. They were full of energy, sounded great and the dance numbers were pretty tight. The costumes were great, too! (I do believe that Disney imposes particular standards on certain things, so that you get a classic Disney experience.)

The female leads, while sometimes slipping from the written melody or key, sang well enough. The young men? Not so much. Out of a cast of around 40, only eight were boys and the show calls for "mostly men." It seems beggars can't be choosy--you take what you get and work with it.
The entire cast at curtain call. Photo by Gregory E. Zschomler

And that's the nature of Metropolitan: Parents sign their kids up for classes and pay for them to go. All the kids get to be in the show which is both good and bad. It builds confidence, skill, self-esteem and more, but it can't create talent. It can bring it out and hone it, but if it isn't there to begin with...

The Good
You have to admire the director (Noah Scott, directed) that would take on a show like that. He's gotta love kids and believe in them and...well...have LOTS of patience. I am reminded of the words of W.C. Fields: "Never work with children or animals." I imagine it's a lot like herding cats. And that does not take into account of having to deal with "stage moms" (which should include hazard pay).

But I digress. 

The best lead performance of the show was given by Bridgette McCarthy in the role of Lumiere. Her accent was fun, her singing nearly dead on and her acting delightful. Kiara (what a pretty name) Kennington, as Mrs. Potts, also gave a winning performance all around, though she began her solo a little shaky. I'm sure it was performance anxiety; there's a lot of pressure in singing the well-known title song.

The very lovely Aubrey Porter starred as Belle and did nicely in the role. She has a nice voice and with some more training she will learn to keep it on pitch. I THINK that Mardee Willman (Cogsworth) sang well, but most of the time her mic wasn't working. Sigh.
"Silly Girl" Kelly Jung
The stand out performance of the entire production was delivered by Kelly Jung who was one of the Silly Girls that fawn over Gaston.

She was a pure delight.

The energy, the facial expression, the acting, the dance moves--everything was star quality right down to her dimple. I can envision this kid in a real Disney production. 

The Not So Good 

The show was NOT well lit--the castle scenes, especially, were difficult to see. But the real irritation came from a generally bad audio mix and a lot of malfunctioning wireless mics. Pretty much what could go wrong, did go wrong. They hummed, the crackled, they boomed, they fell off, they weren't turned on... 

I really felt bad for the kids; that sort of thing doesn't help your confidence level. [You'd think after more than a dozen different shows over a three year period they would have worked out these kinds of bugs.]

And the set needed textured and detailed to bring it completely to life.

All in all, the production has such a great story and the music is so well written (by Alan Meken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice) that you can't help but be moved. Even with the simplified effects (quite a bit less magical than the professional tour) and technical distractions, the show was uplifting and fun.

The show plays again 7 p.m., Saturday, March 31 and Sunday April 1, 2012 at the Washburn Performing Arts Center in Washougal, Wash. Tickets can be purchased by calling 360-975-1585 or at "Anything Goes" opens in April. See the website for more information about classes, shows and auditions.

Here's a short video of "Be Our Guest" from the show.

Story, photos and video by Gregory E. Zschomler

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