'Beauty and Beast' teaches lessons of life

The Baltimore Sun

Children's Theatre of Annapolis offers life lessons to young people through such classic tales as Beauty and the Beast that teach children to think of others ahead of themselves.

It is when the Beast learns to put Belle's happiness above his own that he feels love and begins his transformation from Beast to Prince, and Belle learns that goodness can exist beneath a fearsome exterior.

Other hallmarks that distinguish CTA productions are evident in this Beauty and the Beast, which continues through the weekend at Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center for the Performing Arts.

First is the sincerity and honesty with which such stories are presented, making the lessons clear to the youngest audience member while retaining the depth to appeal to teenagers and their parents.

Children's Theatre productions are known for their sets, which are as meticulously created as those seen at any top regional show. Additionally, there is a noteworthy professional pacing of scenes changed quickly and smoothly.

In Act 1 of the production, there are six rapid scene changes: from a village to the woods to Belle's home to a tavern to the exterior and interior of the Beast's castle. Each is beautifully crafted by the crew.

The exuberance of the teenage cast is matched by its talent and enthusiasm.

First-time CTA director Joe Thompson said that working with those young people nourishes him "like few other things can."

Thompson, who knew that "these kids could sing and dance," wanted to have them "reach deeper into their acting and explore some of the characters' complexities." He and the young actors have succeeded admirably in reaching these goals.

Music director Eileen Eaton brings out the best in a cast of fine soloists and chorus singers while conducting a pit orchestra of 13 musicians.

Returning for his second CTA season, choreographer Jason Kimmell brings a high degree of professionalism and electricity to the ensemble numbers while showcasing several extraordinarily gifted dancers.

Perfectly cast as Belle, Broadneck High School senior Lindsay Espinosa looks lovely in every costume and acts well enough to display Belle's gamut of emotions, dancing with professional grace and singing better than almost anyone else in the cast.

In his first CTA role, Dorian Jackson - also a Broadneck High School senior - is believable as the self-absorbed Gaston, summoning the proper swagger and moving with a dancer's grace and an athlete's prowess in fight scenes.

As Lumiere, Severna Park High School senior Kyle VanZandt lights up the stage in his first CTA production. VanZandt also moves and sings well, and even manages an acceptable French accent.

Arundel High School senior Malarie Novotny is delightful in the demanding role of Mrs. Potts, shining when singing the upbeat "Be Our Guest" solo and with the chorus.

High praise goes to R.J. Pavel, a junior at Archbishop Spalding High School. His stage presence and strong acting talents add an extra dimension of believability and excitement to make the show come alive from the minute he appears onstage as the Beast, who is eventually transformed back into a prince.

Many others deserve praise, including Scott Aucoin as Cogsworth, Martin Thompson as Narrator and Maurice, Maguel Mattia-Uribe as Lefou and Emily Sergo as Madame de la Bouch as well as every plate, teacup, fork, knife and spoon.

Performances at the Pascal Center continue at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12 general admission and $10 for ages 12 and younger and 55 and older. Information: 410-757-2281 or boxoffice@childrenstheatreof annapolis.org.

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