Once again the Temecula’s Youth Musical Theater engaged audiences with a stunning performance. This summer it was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr., a wonderful adaptation of the popular Disney cartoon and Broadway hit. My three and a half year old son and I had our Second Annual Mommy-Son Theater Date to enjoy it. Live theater has a way of captivating its audiences like TV and movies never can, and it was fun to enter that world for an afternoon.
The cast and crew deserve a standing ovation for taking on this complex production. The young actors needed to display great range—both vocally and emotionally—and they did so with style. Director Jennifer Stuart, Vocal Director Brian Smith, and Choreographer Brooke Morris worked their own Disney magic with over 60 children, ages 6-17, to create a show with as much beauty as the name implies.
I have to admit that part of my joy in watching Youth Theater is the cute little ones fidgeting on stage, and adorned as colorful Enchanted Objects and flitting Napkins, they were delightful. I particularly enjoyed adorable Murphy Smith as Chip. However, it was the mature talents of these youngsters that stole the show. The young cast wowed us during the big production numbers like “Belle”, “Gaston”, “Be Our Guest”, and the “Finale.” The chorus did a great job with the complicated, multi-part choral numbers. Their rich, strong voices filled every corner of the theater.
Much credit must also be paid to the very strong leads of this demanding show. Karamia Link’s beautifulvoice epitomized Belle: both sweet and strong. We can only hope she continues to grace the Temecula stage. Michael Kramer’s portrayal of Gaston, the arrogant suitor-turned-antagonist, was fun to watch. The minute he stepped onstage, he emanated arrogance and haughtiness, and Kramer’s voice was as big and bold as Gaston’s biceps—a true talent. Vincente Esparza had the daunting task of bringing the Beast to life, creating a scary yet sympathetic character. He may not have had as many vocal numbers, but the emotional depth he brought to the role was a satisfying surprise for a youth production.
The Enchanted Objects in the Beast’s castle lend an important comic relief and whimsy to the show. In addition to the comic timing and superb voices of these stars, I was impressed with their impeccable accents, particularly Brian Erickson’s Lumiere. These characters were, of course, my son’s favorite part of the show. He loved singing along to “Be Our Guest” but also continually pointed and shouted “Look!” as he discovered each funny object dancing around. Another challenging element for this production is bringing the Enchanted Objects to life without animators. The costumes of theses were truly inspired, combining shiny knives and forks with modern gadgets like a Wii Remote and a microwave. Costume Designers Nancy Snead and Becky Stinger deserve applause for injecting their own sense of Disney magic.
I admit that I took him to the show for the music—I have always been a big fan of this soundtrack and wanted him to see the music come alive. I assumed that my son was too young to grasp the deeper themes: beauty comes from within, outward appearances can be deceiving, and love conquers all. Yet he couldn’t stop asking “Is he going to be nice? Is he nice now? I think he’s turning nice.” Even my preschooler understood that there was beauty within that Beast—there is good in everyone and anyone can change with love. This may be a “tale as old as time,” but it remains relevant and essential today.
Thanks to the City of Temecula Youth Musical Theater for taking a Beast of a show and infusing it with such Beauty. Bravo!
The City of Temecula Youth Musical Theater group’s next performance is Once Upon a Mattress, opening January 2012. Rehearsals begin September 6, and you can register online at www.cityoftemecula.org.