Theater Review – Beauty and the Beast

by Janet Grant
Tri-City Voice – July 31, 2007

There is crispness in the air, but definite magic on the stage of Fremont’s Ohlone College Amphitheatre as StarStruck Theatre presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. With StarStruck’s most recent Broadway musical foray, Director Lori Stokes yet again delivers the theatrical excellence and topnotch entertainment we have come to expect from this award-winning theatre troupe.

Beauty and the Beast is based on a book by Linda Woolverton from which Disney created its 1991 animated movie with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Time Rice. This animated adventure truly comes alive with the beautiful set design of George Pettit as well as the colorful and innovative costumes of designer Vicki Boomer. The 20-piece orchestra under the excellent direction of Nancy Godfrey, set the familiar strains of such numbers as the opening “Belle” and the glitzy “Be Our Guest” to their toe-tapping best. Choreographer Jeanne Batacan-Harper provided the audience with a “wow” factor as dazzling dance numbers kept them visually riveted.

The large cast was made up of the Bay Area’s most talented young performers dancing and singing their way through sweeping castle and panoramic town life. Natalie Hawkins graced the stage with her beauty, lending gentleness and strength to the title role. As Belle, Miss Hawkins was enchanting as she grew more uncertain of her feelings towards the beast. Her lilting “Something There” aptly suggested changes occurring in her heart. And Maurice, played by Daniel J. Harper, hit the right tenor as Belle’s ever-lovable but eccentric inventor dad.

Veteran StarStruck actor Evan Boomer gave depth to the Beast by being at once threatening and yet sympathetic. His “How Long Must This Go On” was full of pathos and I found myself tearing up more than once. If it wasn’t for his many tender and often humorous moments, I would have bawled my head off.

Newcomer to StarStruck, Bohn Kerns was ideally cast as Gaston, the ever narcissistic brute intent on marrying Belle. Mr. Kern’s rich and sonorous bass belted out some of the evenings’ funniest pieces. James M. Jones as LeFou was also the perfect Gaston lackey as he ingratiatingly did his hero’s bidding.

Cogsworth played by Jordan Aragon and Joseph Rivera’s Lumiere were the perfect foils as clock and candelabra bantering about their sorry state of affairs. Mr. Aragon’s Cogsworth, the ever proper British butler, was convincing and Lumiere’s womanizing innuendos and body language lent an enjoyable silliness to the evening.

Babette played by Lauren Hall and Madame de la Grande Bouche played by Beatrice Crosbie were equally convincing as much as humans transformed into household objects could be. Babette makes the best of a bad situation with her love of anything male and the Madame bewails the fact that as a chest of drawers, she can no longer fit into her glorious dress.

Veteran StarStruck actress Courtney Stokes as Mrs. Potts unfailingly keeps the castle occupants together as a kind and warming pot of tea should. And Miss Stokes’ lovely rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” virtually compels the audience to sing along.

Newcomer to StarStruck, 9-year old Joseph Ballard, rounded out the castle household as a perfectly adorable Chip. The young Joseph played the energetic boy turned cracked teacup as an accomplished pro.

This musical has it all…a beauty, a beast, a cartoonish bully, vicious wolves, an angry mob, love, hate, and dancing cutlery. It speaks to the soul of transformation – from beast to human and from humanity to beastliness. It is about enchantment, true love, saving grace and everything in-between. StarStruck’s Beauty and the Beast should not to be missed. This is great storytelling and live theatre at its very best, set in the beautiful Mission Hills on the Ohlone College campus. What more can you expect from a tale as old as time?

Beauty and the Beast

Thursday, August 2 (ASL Interpreted Performance)
Friday, August 3
Saturday, August 4
Sunday, August 5
Wednesday, August 8
Thursday, August 9
Friday, August 10
Saturday, August 11

Performances start at 8 p.m.

Ohlone College Outdoor Amphitheatre
43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 659-1319

Adults: $20
Seniors/Students: $18
Children: $15.00

Special additional performance: Thursday, August 9 at 10:00 a.m. – General Seating only. All seats $10.