The Theatre Club at Western School is three years old. Their two past production include Willy Wonka and last year's Annie; both were critically acclaimed by, well, me and everyone else who saw them. This year, this thriving group of performers are presenting Disney's Beauty and the Beast Jr. on the school gymnasium stage. Opening night was tightly packed with family and friends and the students were extremely excited to show off all the hard work that had clearly gone into this wonderful show.
Stephanie Colella is once again in the director's chair and is assisted by Carol Kapusta. In the director's notes, she is grateful for the many new things that have expanded the club this year. The Naugatuck Education Foundation funded a sound-board, stage monitor and microphone that afforded clubmembers "the opportunity to feel like we are in a 'real' theatre and gave students a chance to work with equipment and see another side of production." They also were able to add speakers to this equipment through a grant on donorschoose.org.
Ms. Colella characteristically shares the credit with the many people who helped make her vision possible, including choreographer Ginny Doxsey, set designer Eva Siefert, and costumer Ms. Smith. She is blessed with a wonderfully supportive principal Melissa (D'Alessandro) Cooney, who has always appeared in the show and allows her to share her "crazy vision" with the kids at Western. They truly did work hard as a team to put on their greatest show yet.
Featuring songs from the Academy-Award winning animated feature, this stage version includes music by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, along with new songs by Mr. Menken and Tim Rice. Every member of the cast sang with enthusiasm. My favorite musical numbers were "Gaston," "The Mob Song," and of course, the title song. The new sound system worked quite well on opening night; both the recorded music track and the microphoned performers could be easily heard. Only when some of them spoke the lines they knew so well a little too quickly did we miss what they were saying. The lighting was flawless and the colorful costumes were absolutely adorable. Kylie Hinman as Mrs. Potts was perfectly dressed as a teapot and never broke character and Saige Winslow was her English teacup sidekick as Chip.
The just-right sized ensemble did a great job, especially in their amazing costumes for the dinner scene for "Be Our Guest," which featured huge forks and spoons. Mrs. Cooney served as a lovely Narrator. DJ Fine was a very good Gaston, with the talented Sara Whiteley as his sidekick Lefou. Manuel Silva as Cogsworth (another great costume) and David Jaworowski as Lumiere were both strong actors. Cameron Jacobs shone as Belle's father Maurice and probably had the best hair. Kasia Deptula was a convincing Babette while Emily Odell was a wonderful Madame de la Grange Bouche.
In the lead role of Beast, Izais Padilla was properly scary. As Belle, Madeline Abate was very impressive. Her good soprano voice was perfect for the role and her acting spot on. This young lady has a lot of potential; I expect to see her in community theatre in the future.
For about half the just-over-an-hour performance, I could see the face of the director as she worked the sound board in her headset. The pride she felt for her young actors was most evident. Costumer extraordinaire Renee C. Purdy tells me that Ms. Colella "is one of my former 'student actors' from Watertown. She is lovely and I am sure she is guiding these young actors with love and expertise!" The director, a third grade teacher at Western, has once again done a fine job in staging her young cast members. She makes wonderful use of her limited flat space; unfortunately when the students act on the floor in front of the stage, it is impossible for most of the audience to see what is going on. However, overall this show is the best one yet, and I thought the last two were really good. Kudos to all the adults that made it so and the kids who worked so hard.
Because school will be closed on February 8, the show scheduled for that day will take place on Friday, February 15 at 5:30 pm. This will be followed by the February 15 performance that will be February 15 at 7:00 pm. Feb. 7, 8, and 15th performances are sold out, but as of Thursday there were 29 tickets remaining for the 14th.