2017-02-17 / On The Town

Be our guest at the arts center for a tale as old as time

play review /// ‘Beauty and the Beast’
By Cary Ginell

WELCOME MAT—Cogsworth (Jeff Raum), Mrs. Potts (Tami Keaton) and Lumiere (Christopher Mahr) greet a visitor in the High Street Arts Center’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” 
Courtesy of Barbara Mazeika WELCOME MAT—Cogsworth (Jeff Raum), Mrs. Potts (Tami Keaton) and Lumiere (Christopher Mahr) greet a visitor in the High Street Arts Center’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” Courtesy of Barbara Mazeika Theatergoers attending the opening weekend of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at the High Street Arts Center were the first to see the venerable theater’s new look since it was shut down, ironically, for a production crew from Walt Disney Pictures that used the theater for scenes in an upcoming film.

Ken Rayzor, the arts center’s manager, had wanted to stage “Beauty” for some years and finally got the opportunity when its publisher announced its availability for local performance. The result, which Rayzor directed, is one of the most captivating and sumptuous productions in the theater’s history, with a richly talented cast and outstanding production values.

The 1994 musical is one of the most popular in the Disney catalog, as well as a trailblazer for the company. It ran for over 5,000 performances on Broadway, triggering the formation of Disney Theatrical Productions and a continuing run that includes “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.”

The actual changes made to the High Street theater were mainly cosmetic: The two stage balconies were enlarged and reshaped, the proscenium intricately decorated, and the front of the stage was changed from its previous flat face to one that is curved. Regrettably, they didn’t add an orchestra pit, but you can’t have everything.

As for the show, the strong casting is its main strength, but the production also has a professional look that isn’t often seen on community theater stages.

Each actor was ideally suited for the character portrayed.

Leading the way is Kendyl Yokoyama, who plays the central role of Belle. The 17-year-old high school student had mainly done ensemble work until now. She finally gets a chance to play a principal role.

Yokoyama is a triple-threat artist who can act, sing and dance as well as any local performer we’ve seen in a long time. Graceful as a ballerina, despite being relatively short in stature, her compactness works well in this show, especially in the song “Me,” in which her brutish suitor, Gaston—the excellent Dave Hatfield—tosses her around like a sack of potatoes.

Nick Newkirk, a familiar presence at High Street, especially in heroic roles, plays the Beast, hidden behind Jeff Raum’s extraordinary makeup/ prosthetic design. Raum also painted the colorful village backdrop and castle exterior, the latter adapted from last year’s production of “The Addams Family.”

An excellent singer, Newkirk served as music director for the production. He was assisted by Lisa Yaldezian.

The secondary roles, the anthropomorphic enchanted objects in the Beast’s castle, are played by a terrific troupe of performers, each of whom resisted the impulse to exaggerate their respective characters, letting the ornate costumes built by the Costume House in North Hollywood and witty dialogue speak for themselves.

Included among this excellent cast are Christopher Mahr as Lumiere, the French candelabra; Raum as Cogsworth, the wound-too-tight clock; Tami Keaton as Mrs. Potts, the fussy teapot; Ella Boring as her inquisitive son, Chip; Jessica Bell as the flirtatious feather duster, Babette; and Becca Peyton as the operatically inclined wardrobe, Madame de la Grande Bouche.

Not to be left out are two equally superb performances by Dale Alpert as Belle’s lovable father, Maurice, and Jack Cleary as Gaston’s bumbling sidekick.

Barbara Mazeika created the costumes for Belle, the villagers and ensemble players. The lighting, which enhanced the darker scenes in the Beast’s castle, was designed by Patrick Duffy. Tami Keaton and Amie Woolweber’s choreography was often stunning, especially in the vaunted “Be Our Guest” segment.

The appreciative audience included many small children who were delighted with the magic and enchantment of this exemplary production.

So were we.

“Beauty and the Beast” plays through March 5 at the 45 E. High St., Moorpark. For tickets, visit www.HighStreetArtsCenter.com.

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