It is always a joy to be in an audience with many young children attending their first big Broadway musical, whether it is a big professional production or a more modest community-based production. Just watching the wonder on their faces always reminds me how the magic of live theater will encourage many young audience members to appear onstage during their lifetimes, just as it did mine at the age of six.
So when I heard the perennial favorite musical BEAUTY AND THE BEAST with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton was being presented at a smaller theater in Boyle Heights by CASA 0101 Theater, El Centro Del Pueblo in Association with Councilmember Gil Cedillo (and directed by Rigo Tejeda, musically directed by Caroline Benzon with choreography by Lia Metz), I knew I had to be there to watch as the wonder was born in the faces of children new to the world of live theater. And I was not disappointed!
Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST follows Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and a Beast, who is actually a handsome young Prince who lives in a luxurious castle in France. With her amazingly natural stage presence and remarkable vocal talent, lovely Andrea Somera brings Belle, one of the best loved Disney princesses, realistically to life.
At 6’5” Omar Mata’s fearsome-looking Beast could have frightened the youngest in the audience but did not thanks to Mata’s ability to let us see his very emotional and youthful inner soul. Thanks to these two dedicated performers, the production totally entertained every member in the audience!
The story of this mismatched pair begins when an Old Beggar Woman (Andrea Ramirez), who is actually an Enchantress, asks the Prince (Jesse Maldonado) for shelter from the freezing cold and is shunned by him for her repulsive appearance.
The Enchantress then transforms the Prince into a Beast for his cold-hearted and selfish ways. Ashamed of his new frightful appearance, the Beast conceals himself inside his castle with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world, along with an enchanted rose which will bloom until he turns 21 years of age.
But time is now running out for the Beast to learn to love a woman and earn her love in return before the final petal falls off the rose, at which time the curse will be broken and he will return to his original self as a Prince. But, if not, he will remain a lonely Beast forever.
To make matters even worse for the Beastly Prince, the Enchantress also cast a magic spell upon all the members of his household who have been transformed into household objects to reflect their different personalities. Kudos go out to each of the talented actors who portray these iconic characters: Jeremy Saje as Cogsworth, the English manor butler who has become a mantle clock; Caleb Green who shines more brightly than his candles ever could in the role of Lumiere, a French maître d’ now a candelabra; Rosa Navarrete as his girlfriend Babette, the flirty French maid who is now a feather duster; opera singer Allison Flanagan as Madame de la Grande Bouche who has become a fancy wardrobe closet; and the perfectly giggly Jacquelin Schofield as Mrs. Potts the cook, now a teapot, whose lovely rendition of the title song enchanted the audience; and her son Chip the tea cup (Noah Dobson and Sean Vargas share the role) who longs to be a real boy again.
Will the Beast learn to love Belle and earn her affection in time? Not if her hometown beau Gaston (sexy Andreas Pantazis, who muscular frame really needs a pair of flouncy jodhpurs rather than just tights), can prevent it.
Accompanying Gaston in his hot pursuit for Belle is his hysterical, ever-flipping and getting slapped sidekick Le Fou, portrayed to perfection by Maxwell Peters who also is the production’s Fight Captain. Also of note is Luis Marquez as Belle’s “crazy inventor” father Maurice.
Kudos also go to the technical team, especially set designer Marco De Leon who managed to create all the necessary scenes within the very small theater space, highlighted with scenic projections by Sheiva Khalily, and the many various colorful costumes designed by Abel Alvarado. The only drawback for very young audience members may be the almost 3-hour run time, which could be improved with a few well-placed scene edits, especially ending Act 1 with the iconic and extremely well-done big production number “Be Out Guest” during which the entire ensemble entertains as plates, silverware, and other dinner table objects, with the salt shaker displaying incredible dance moves!
“Beauty and the Beast” continues on the CASA 0101 Theater’s Main Stage, 2102 East First Street in Boyle Heights, CA 90033 through Jan. 21 with performances on Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 4 p.m. General admission tickets are $35; $30 for Students and Seniors; and $25 for Boyle Heights residents with ID and children 10 and younger, with advance reservations encouraged by calling 323-263-7684, via email to email@example.com, or online at www.casa0101.org. Free Parking is available on streets surrounding the theatre, and on Fridays and Saturdays only at the Boyle Heights City Hall Parking Lot at 2130 East First Street (enter the lot on Chicago Street). Metro Gold Line train stations are located on First Street in Boyle Heights at both Soto Street, and at Boyle Street (Mariachi Plaza), within a short walking distance to the theater.