Watching young artists perform carries its own level of excitement beyond the entertainment itself. There’s the shared love of arts which compels people to participate and support learning theatre productions. There is also the self-confidence, discipline, and hard work required by the students that is an invaluable experience for the kids, and creates a tremendous shared sense of pride for the finished product in performers, teaching artists, and supporting friends and family.
BRAVO Productions’ recent presentation of Beauty and the Beast Jr. exemplifies that positive experience. A group of about forty children were involved in the process, with the guidance of Director Valerie Issembert, Music Director Dan Binstock, and Choreographer Laurie Newton. Two separate casts were created and the show I saw had the Beauty Cast (the other being the Beast Cast, naturally).
Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s most widely known movies, so the basic plot is familiar to most. The show starts with the prologue. Narrators Madison Moorhead and Charlotte Markey tell the story of how the lovely enchantress (Ellie Strisik), disguised as a beggar woman, goes to a castle seeking shelter and food. The spoiled and cocky Prince (Jack White) refuses to help her and, as punishment for his inhumanity, is put under a spell. He is turned into a hideous beast and the entire castle is doomed to remain cursed forever–unless the Beast can find someone he can love, who will love him as well.
The song “Belle” sung by the local townspeople (Jay Giese II, Taylor Blackston, Gabby Scherr, Kahler Mayr, Bethany Korb, Ben Manevich, Lucy Keller, Marlee Mayr, Becca Dodek, Gabriella Carter, Abby Binstock, Madeline Kavounas, and Charlotte Kuperstein) introduces the character of the same name, who is slightly out-of-place in her bustling town. Cynthia Jacobson is the kind and beautiful Belle. She fends off the advances of Gaston–hilariously portrayed by Gwendolyn Zorc–and dotes on her sweet but eccentric father Maurice (Alex Eskew).
Maurice is attacked by wolves (Abby Binstock, Marlee Mayr, Kahler Mayr) in the forest and unwittingly captured by the Beast, who has grown angry and even more harsh after living in his castle in seclusion for years. But Belle sacrifices her own freedom so that her father may be free and promises to stay with the Beast forever.
Meanwhile, Gaston’s bumbling sidekick, Lefou (Mackenzie Bragin) tries to cheer Gaston from Belle’s rejection and sings of his glorious attributes in the hilarious “Gaston,” as the rightfully named “Silly Girls” (Hannah Brooker, Marin Strisik, Ellie Strisik, Gabby Rappaport, and Brooke Katz) fawn all over him.
And back at the castle, Belle has met the other residents under the spell, including the blustering Cogsworth (Monica Conroy), Babette (Ellie Harper), Mrs. Potts (Ella Hinds), Chip (Russell Pita), and Madame Bouche (Ava Klugerman). Lumiere is played by William Young and is perfectly charming when he leads the song “Be Our Guest.”
The Jr. musical has songs or scenes trimmed for time, but the plot is entirely intact from the original. Maurice comes home raving about the Beast and asking for help to rescue Belle. Gaston devises to have Maurice committed for insanity by Madame D’Arque (Charlotte Markey). And Belle and the Beast start to develop feelings for one another.
White, as the Beast, does a lovely job discovering how to soften and be more human again as he and Belle become closer, while Mrs. Potts sings “Something There.” And, with the breaking of the spell in sight, Young as Lumiere sings of being “Human Again.”
The ending of a story is never that simple, though, and there is the attack on the Beast, led by Gaston, and their battle. But the spell is ultimately broken by Belle’s love for the Beast and everyone in the castle is released from the spell.
Beauty and the Beast’s moral of not judging or acting on appearances only and the power of love and compassion is a perfect lesson for kids and grownups, especially in this day and age. And Bravo has always shown great judgment in the show choices for their students to perform.
The audience was completely packed, as is usually the case for Bravo’s productions, and everyone involved was filled with such energy and anticipation that it would be impossible not to enjoy the show. The young artists did well. They sang and danced, and the happiness and sense of accomplishment in the theater was wonderful.
Executive Producer of Bravo, Laurie Levy Issembert continues to run an incredible program for would-be performers and it is clear that the students and everyone else involved value their work and put their whole heart in what they do. That kind of dedication and sense of community is a refreshing thing to witness. Congratulations to all the young performers involved!
Running Time: One hour and 10 minutes, with no intermission.
Beauty and the Beast Jr. ran June 16th and 17th, 2018, at BRAVO Productions, performing at Randolph Road Theatre – 4010 Randolph Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets to upcoming BRAVO Productions for Young Artists shows, call (202) 360-7578 or purchase them online.