Arts & Leisure

A beautiful “Beast” for the whole family

BRITTANY GERARDI stars as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” now on stage at the Gem Theater (All images © 2019 Ron Lyon Photo)

By Thom deMartino 

It is said that beauty is only skin deep: that true beauty emanates from within. But in some cases, it takes a little work, cultivation and change within the self, for that flower of true beauty and kindness to bloom.

The curtain has risen on Garden Grove’s own Gem Theater’s final show of the year, and it’s a classic for all ages: the beloved Disney retelling of the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.”

Belle (Brittany Gerardi) is a curiosity to the rest of her quaint little village: neither satisfied to simply bask in the provincial life, nor swooning like the other ladies of the town over the handsome, dashing (and egotistical) Gaston (Nick Seigel), she longs for something more… A life of adventure and exploration, like in her beloved books that she’s read through so many times before. But the townsfolk (as well as Gaston) don’t see the point of a young woman aspiring to read and – gasp! – learn, so both she and her quirky inventor father Maurice (Duane Thomas) are looked upon by the villagers with a bemused, but tolerant eye.

When her father becomes lost in the forest on the way to the local fair to present his newest invention, he is set upon by a pack of wolves: barely escaping, he takes refuge at a mysterious castle in the forest, permitted entry by kindly but unseen benefactors. It isn’t until they come into view that the old man thinks he’s losing his mind – how can he possibly be talking to an anthropomorphic clock, the histrionic and fussing Cogsworth (Peter Crisafulli) and a suave, debonair candelabra, Lumiere (Brayden Martino)?

But the inventor’s real panic sets in upon facing the terrifying visage of the master of the palace – the Beast (Bryan Fraser). Cursed for more than a decade for his unkindness to a weary traveler – a witch in disguise – many years before, the curse itself has blanketed not only the haughty prince, but the entire castle and its inhabitants as well: including not just Cogsworth and Lumiere, but also the dainty Babette (Katie Walsh) – now a talking feather duster – and Mrs. Potts and her son Chip (Beth Hanson and Siena Engle), now transformed into a matching teapot and cup.

When Belle goes looking for her missing father and stumbles across the castle, she finds him in chains, the prisoner of the ill-tempered, ill-mannered Beast – but the kindly young woman chokes back her fear, and volunteers to stand in his stead. This creates quite the commotion within the palace staff: for unknown to Belle, the conditions of the curse declare that if the Beast can find true love before the last petal of an enchanted rose falls, the spell will be broken. But can she truly be the one?

It has been a landmark year for the award-winning One More Productions troupe at the Gem, as well as its founders Damien Lorton and Nicole Cassesso: taking chances with musical productions such as “Nine” and “Bright Star” — not as well known, yet to great acclaim and audience response. And while this season may not have seen some of the fan favorites of previous years, such as “Always, Patsy Cline” and “The Holiday Gem” (though “Patsy” returns for a limited engagement next year, and a certain bombastic bombshell from “Holiday Gem” has her own cameo in the new production), audiences have thrilled with OMP’s offerings at the Gem this season.

That being said, the Damien Lorton-directed “Beast” is a fitting pinnacle to an already remarkable season.

NICK SEIGEL as Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” now at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove.

An alumnus of previous shows, Gerardi shines as Belle: powerfully portraying a strong, sympathetic and self-determined woman, not defined by her beauty alone, who can’t help but do the right thing by others – even at the cost of her own comfort and freedom. Fraser’s Beast is a marvel to behold as well: though hidden beneath heavy mask and costume for the majority of the show, through his performance the audience easily sympathizes with his plight, touched by the vulnerability beneath his brusque exterior.

Seigel’s Gaston is marvelous – simply put, that guy you love to hate (but can’t help to like a little bit too, against your better judgment.) There’s actually almost a fun house mirror quality between the two characters of the Beast and Gaston: the Beast appearing monstrous, though good-hearted when one gets past his defenses, while Gaston’s handsome, sculpted appearance in reality disguises his distinctly male chauvinist bent (well, okay, maybe not that well disguised … he really is toxic masculinity personified.)

There’s fantastic, frenetic chemistry between Seigel and Hunter Nelson as Gaston’s sycophantic bestie Lefou — along with the three “silly girls” who are constantly swooning over the muscular menace (played with hysterical gusto by Alyssa Twombly, Kady Lawson and Jessie Mays), they all steal nearly every scene they’re in.

Then again, the same could be said of the interplay between Crisafulli’s manic Cogsworth and Martino’s buoyant Lumiere (as well as the latter’s ongoing flirtation with Walsh’s feather duster, Babette.) And as with a number of other Gem productions, Beth Hanson shines: as the kindly, affable Mrs. Potts with a remarkable rendition of the title number, “Beauty and the Beast.” (And Siena Engle as Chip is absolutely adorable.)

If there is one particularly stand-out moment of the whole production, it’s the joyous rendition of “Be Our Guest: an uplifting, dazzling spectacle of movement and color, truly like the animated classic being brought to life before your eyes.

“Beauty and the Beast” is one for the whole family (and selling out fast, so get your tickets while you can): it’s a holiday treat that will be remembered for years to come – guaranteed to brighten and lift the spirits of even the most resigned Grinch this season.

Beauty and the Beast.” Brittany Gerardi, Bryan Fraser and Nick Seigel star in this magical live production of the classic Disney animated tale. Playing through December 22 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Call (714) 741-9550 x221 or e-mail boxoffice@onemoreproductions.com for ticketing information. 

 

 

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