Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer theater at its best at Schoolhouse - By Louis Philippe

It’s a tale as old as time… La Belle et la Bête by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 was the best known version of this traditional folktale…that is, until Disney’s film version in 1991 and a highly successful Broadway run from 1994-2007. Today, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and a script by Linda Woolverton, Beauty and the Beast is a widely popular musical choice among community theaters with high schoolers.

Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish brings Beauty and the Beast to life, with all the Disney splendor and enchantment, in a production local theater fans will find charming and delightful. Directed by Dillon Bates, with the help of assistant director Adam Gary Normand, it’s a huge show with a cast of 30 whose opening night jitters were quickly replaced with an awakening of confidence that empowered them to easily push the magical fairy tale into the audience and pull them right back in (thank you, Lumiere).

Beauty and the Beast tells the story of a prince who is turned into a gruff and hideous beast by a spell as punishment for his selfish ways and can only become human again if he were to find love. Belle, an adventurous young woman from a small village, finds her way to the castle where her inventor-father is being held prisoner and makes a deal with the Beast to let her father go and take her as prisoner instead.
Belle proves to be a determined prisoner who is not afraid to speak her mind, while the servants of the castle, who have all been turned into household items as part of the same spell, now have new hope that the Beast and Belle can fall in love and they, too, can become human again. It’s a monumental task, a journey filled with twists and surprises, and lots of evil forces to fight along the way, but ultimately—with some coaching, bending, changing, civility and forgiveness—the goal is achieved.
Janelle LoSciuto as Belle and Tom Ferent as the Beast are superb and convincing. LoSciuto’s Disney-esque ingénue, carefree characterization and clean, crisp vocals play well against Ferent’s struggling antagonist with intense, purposefully-placed delivery.

Zac Stearn is outstanding as Lumiere. His stage skills are top notch but his animation is especially captivating with priceless expression (think Jim Carrey). Also impressive were Danny Gay as Cogsworth (and lighting designer) and Barbara Laveault as Mrs. Potts, Sarah Flagg as Madame De La Grande Bouche and Katie Lind as Babette.

Jake Boyce commands two roles—choreographer and a very entertaining Gaston. His sidekick, LeFou, is adeptly handled by Jeff McNally. Chris Roberts plays Maurice, Kaylin Brown is Chip and Louis King is Monsieur D’Arque. The Silly Girls—Corinne Sophia Ulmer, Sophia Cartonio and Anna Giroux—are fun scene stealers.

The ever-busy Ensemble deserves a standing ovation: Jacob Clowes, Josh Davis, Cara Kennedy, Lisa Libby, Valerie Lind, Sarah Morin, Meghan Reidy, Angel Spiller, Abigail Thomas, Emily Thomson, Livi Vail, Bridget Daigle, Kianna Hubbard, Jack Lamont and Diane Ruecker.

Music director Allen Thomas skillfully leads an admirable perfectly-placed nine-piece pit that provides nicely balanced support for all the singing. And for this show, the singing is magnificent.

This is home-town Maine summer community theater at its best. Disney magic aside, there’s something quite magical about an old schoolhouse, a charming rustic building now supported with patches of love and attention. When you walk in, you notice it’s a weathered building, in need of dusting, washing, painting, normal things, with rooms dotted with donated items and leftover pieces and writings from past events. It’s not the neatest house, but it’s the busiest house in the neighborhood, where kids flock to create and explore.

It’s not the slick, high-tech, high-cost, state-of-the-art-everything that makes this Beauty and the Beast production a theatrical triumph. It’s the hearts and spirits of the grass-roots summer-stock of diverse local talent who create the magic—some veterans of theater with impressive bios, others just stepping in the spotlight for the first time. The moral to this story:

Beauty and the Beast has several morals and cultural clichés for the audience to ponder: Most obviously never judge a book by its cover, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, beauty is not only skin deep but can be found in the heart, and hearts can change. There’s also redemption found in the Beast’s transformation from a mean bully to a nice guy. In its first published version written by French author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, the story was intended for adult readers and addressed the issues of a marriage system in which women had no right to choose their husband or to refuse to marry.

So if the lesson is to never judge by appearance, Schoolhouse Arts Center’s Beauty and the Beast is a perfect choice. Don’t hesitate to be their guest!

Beauty & The Beast runs thru July 31st on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. The theater is located at 16 Richville Rd (Route 114) in Standish. FMI, visit or call 207-642-3743.

Photos by Lauren Kennedy

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