Star Struck touching in “Beauty and the Beast”

by W. Fred Crow
Fremont Bulletin – August 9, 2007

Over the years, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” has had to face the two-headed challenge of time and exposure. The world has changed since the musical opened on Broadway in April 1994. Beauty and that Beast have appeared on stage, on the big screen, on television, in books, and in cartoons over the decades. And still, the story stands the test of time. In the hands of director Lori Stokes, the product remains vibrant, energetic, and relevant.

The curtain is open at the Ohlone College outdoor amphitheater in Fremont where the out of doors atmosphere adds and excites the presentation. Those popular Disney characters rise from the 1991 animation to shine and amuse in live performance. The Star Struck Youth Theatre troupe smartly brings life to the story and a moral as a bonus. Once again Star Struck excels at theater and entertains at the highest levels.

Very little of the production is overlooked. The set is remarkable (George Pettit), the costuming right on (Vicki Boomer), and the music exact, brought to us by an orchestra under the delightful baton of Nancy Godfrey. She sweeps us aloft with grand sounds while the large cast dances to the choreography of Jeanne Batacan-Harper. The familiar strains of the theme, “Beauty and the Beast” and the (almost) showstopper “Be Our Guest,” are coupled with lesser known, but equally as enjoyable, tunes.

The story is typical Disney fantasy. The prince acts the buffoon to a passing flowing gal who turns out to be a witch. The prince is then cursed to live as a Beast. He’ll return to normal when he has a change of heart and he changes the heart of a beautiful woman. Or he will remain a beast after the last petal of a previously offered rose falls. Living as companions to the Beast within the castle walls are servants also affected by the curse of the Beast. A teapot walks, a teacup talks, the lampshade and clock enjoy great humor and repartee. Into the fray comes Belle, a book-reading beauty who is taken captive by the Beast, but, who in turn, captures the heart of the beast. Standard fantasy.

The cast is large and most deserving of credit. Natalie Hawkins really was belle of the ball in the tile roll. As Belle, she offers a sweet gentleness that takes heart of audience and Beast. Belle is thought of as odd and hungers for a beau of her own. She voices a wonderful crowd pleaser with “A Change in Me,” as she grows in her feelings for the Beast. Hawkins was simply wonderful. Evan Boomer evolved before us. His sinister low baritone, voicing demands and sorrow, were compelling; his inner pain reaching, and his metamorphosis from beast to feast quite agreeable. He moves from threats and cravings to compassion and kindness. He vocals “How Long Must This Go On,” and the touching “If I Can’t Love Her,” with very satisfying results.

Bohn Kerns, as Gaston, played the stage large and loud and delightfully self absorbed. His conceit, exceeded only by his arrogance, leads him to wallow his personal theme song, “Me,” a testament to his fondness of being adored. He was the town bully. James M. Jones capably played his sycophant, LeFou.

Quite appealing and offering brilliant humor, and almost in a storybook tale of their own, were the animated objects of the house. Courtney Stokes served nicely as Mrs. Potts, rendering the theme song “Beauty and the Beast” most pleasantly. Joseph Ballard was her constant companion as the cup on wheels, Chip.

Jordan Aragon as Cogswoth, and Joseph Rivera as Lumiere were a duo easily skilled in humor. Whether by voice or body language or scurrying about, they were a treat: Aragon, the right and proper English clock with a penchant for panic; and Rivera, the haughty French candlestick who was constantly on the edge of mischief with Babette (Lauren Hall) as well tweaking the emotional nose of Cogsworth. Hall’s character would slink about seeking the attention of any male. Beatrice Crosbie played Madame de la Grande Bouche, a grand opera singer from the former time. Daniel J. Harper played the delightful Maurice, Belle’s eccentric inventing father.

Star Struck’s is a complete staged event. The show closes this week but is worth changing plans you’ve already made. It’s a great musical. “Beauty and the Beast” plays through Aug. 11 at the Smith Center at Ohlone College, Fremont. The theater is located at 43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont. For ticket information, call (510) 659-1319.

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W. Fred Crow is a local music director and frequent attendee of the arts. Contact him at wfredcrow@yahoo.com.