Beauty and the Beast
by Children's Theatre of Charlotte

Sean Watkins stars in Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” (Sept. 25-Oct.25, 2009; McColl Family Theatre at ImaginOn. Directed by Alan Poindexter. Photo by Donna Bise. The Disney version of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast that has opened at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte is dazzling. Director Alan Poindexter has meshed the music, dancing, acting, and technical elements into a completely realized production that should not be missed. The show is two and a half hours, but doesn’t drag for a moment. (The preparation for such a large production is staggering to think about.)

The Disney take is a variation of the original fairy tale. The moral is still the same; look beneath the surface, although the emphasis for modern audiences may be different from the French version written in the 1700s. Belle (Caroline Bower) is thought pretty, but odd, for her habit of reading books. She is devoted to her father, Maurice (Mark Sutton), but follows her true nature and refuses to marry the handsome but buffoonish Gaston (Matthew Keffer). Immediately Belle is recognized as a heroine with moral integrity, and the only kind of person who can save the Beast (Sean Watkins) from his fate. For his part, before his transformation to Beast, he is a prince, but a beast on the inside proving this when he refuses to help an old woman at the beginning of the play (ingeniously shown as puppets in shadow)

The show is perfectly cast. Caroline Bower doesn’t overplay Belle’s serious nature or make her cartoonish. She is believable whether sincere or feisty and has a lovely singing voice. The Beast is a compelling character in the show, but the actor has to be able to convey the inner turmoil with his face and body covered with a heavy costume. Sean Watkins is more than up to the part, and an even more sympathetic Beast than when I saw the show on Broadway. When he starts his solo, “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of Act I with hesitation and voice cracking, then builds to more human desperation, it’s quite moving. Mark Sutton, who often directs at Children’s Theatre, is also very directable as Belle’s father and absent-minded inventor, Maurice. The part of Gaston can be difficult to cast, but Matthew Keffer is terrific. He has to be like an evil preening Elvis, but clownish, macho, and yet very threatening to Belle when called upon. His “partner” the bumbling Lefou, Jon Parker Douglas, has shown his considerable talent on a number of stages in Charlotte. (I hope he has plenty of padding with all his pratfalls.)

(L-R) Ashby Blakely, Caroline Bower, Nic Bryan and Susan Cherin Gundersheim star in Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” (Sept. 25-Oct.25, 2009; McColl Family Theatre at ImaginOn. Directed by Alan Poindexter. Photo by Donna Bise. Susan Chernin Gundersheim is an admirable Mrs. Potts and we have the pleasure of her singing the title song. She works well with her “son” Chip, well played by young Sam Faulkner who spends most of the play under a table with face showing from a huge tea cup (when not helping out in the chorus). He doesn’t miss a step. Ashby Blakely is an audience favorite as Cogsworth the clock. He and Nic Bryan, who shines (sorry) as Lumiere, have a good rapport, and provide some of the wittiest lines. They also benefit from their inventive costumes. Also first-rate are Susan Roberts Knowlson as Babette, Amy Van Looy as the Wardrobe, Steven Ivey as Monsieur D’Arque, and the entire chorus. What an embarrassment of acting riches

Drina Keen’s musical direction is outstanding; her work with the actors gives each his/her moment to shine and shows each off to his/her best advantage. The same is true for the choreography of Ron Chisholm as he always likes to add some original touches with dancers of all sizes and shapes, from young to adult

The costume design by Connie Furr Soloman is impressive and adds greatly to the fantasy elements of the production. Special mention needs to be made of the work by scenic designer Ryan Wineinger, properties manager Peter Smeal, sound designer Elisabeth Itloop, lighting designer David M. Fillmore, Jr., and the video projection design by Jay Thomas, as well as work of the entire production staff

Beauty and the Beast helps us revive a childhood hope. Wouldn’t we all like to believe in the transformative power of love? It may be a fairy tale, but for the course of the show, I suspended disbelief and thought it possible. Congratulations to Children’s Theatre for this excellent production.

Ann Marie Oliva
Producer/Editor –
National Youth Theatre

Performed September 25 - October 25, 2009

Photos by Donna Bise

The cast of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” (Sept. 25-Oct.25, 2009; McColl Family Theatre at ImaginOn. Directed by Alan Poindexter. Photo by Donna Bise.

~ Cast ~

Belle: Caroline Bower
The Beast: Sean Watkins
Maurice: Mark Sutton
Gaston: Matthew Keffer
Lefou: Jon Parker Douglas
Mrs. Potts: Susan Cherin Gundersheim
Lumiere: Nic Bryan
Chip/Chorus: Sam Faulkner
Cogsworth: Ashby Blakely
Babette/Aristocratic Lady: Susan Roberts Knowlson
Wardrobe/Lady with Cane: Amy Van Looy
Monsieur D’Arque: Steven Ivey
Silly Girl/Wolf/Chorus/Dance Captain: Jay Adriel Watkins
Silly Girl/Chorus/Vocal Captain: Heather Whittington
Silly girl/Chorus: Jenny Chen

Will Branner
Robert Briner
Emily Calder
Kayla Carter
Andrew Conner
Jura Davis
Nicolas Delgadillo
Nolan Dunagan
Anna Farish
Caroline Farley
Sam Faulkner
Ashton Guthrie
Alexis Harder
Brandon Lawler
TJ Nelson
Sara Reinecke
Casey Roberge
Tyler Smith
Emma VanDevelde
Kathryn Watts

~ Musicians ~
Conductor/Keyboard: Drina Keen
Keyboard 2: Jean Phillips
Keyboard 3: Pat Cray
Keyboard 4: David Jennings
Drums: Josh Walker
Woodwind: Jack Murray
Woodwind 2: Rich Graham
Violin: Alicia Eschdeman
Cello: Liz Burns

~ Production Staff ~
Director: Alan Poindexter
Choreographer: Ron Chisholm
Music Director: Drina Keen
Costume Designer: Connie Furr Solomon
Scenic Designer: Ryan Wineinger
Properties Designer: Peter Smeal
Sound Designer: Elisheba Ittoop
Lighting Designer: David M. Filmore, Jr.
Video Projection Design: Jay Thomas
Production Stage Manager: Brendo Arko
Production Manager: Andy Brown
Technical Director: Andrew Gibbon
Costume Shop Manager: Amy Akerblom Holroyd
Stage Manager: Elisabeth Purkey
Master Carpenter: Wesley Dye
Master Electrician: Barbara Berry
Audio Engineer: Van Coble, Jr.
Costume First Hand: Marina Arconti
House Carpenter: Jeremy Holroyd
Scenic Artist: Tim Parati
Wardrobe Supervisor: Kehlee Walsh
Makeup and Wig Stylist: Barbie VanSchaick
Carpenters: Justin Dashiell, Ryan Maloney, John Slechta, Preston Speaker, John Wilfong
Electricians: Patrick Kirby, Paul Setzer, Eric Winkenwerder, Adam York
Deck Hands: Colby Davis, Andrea King, Trista Rothe, Preston Speaker
Stitchers: Betsy Blackmore, Samantha Burroughs Bogey Cornagie, Angela Harris, Mary Hunting, Lisa Jilani, Sarah Pace Johnson, Erin Lauler, Emily McCurdy, Julia Rushhoven, Kay Thomas, Sharon Wallace, Kehlee Walsh, Greta Zandstra, Katherine Zywczyk
Costume Crafts: Imagination Las Vegas, Jason Estrada, Cheralyn Lambeth, Drew Nowlin, Barbi VanSchaick
Costume Dyer: Elizabeth Oliver
Wardrobe Crew: Carolyn Beltcher, Barbi VanSchaick
Assistant Scenic Artist: Rebecca Koon
Dance Captain: Jay Adriel Watkins
Student Supervisors: Jenny Chen, Jay Adriel Watkins, Heather Whittington
Production Interns: Ariel Blake, Carly Blumenstein, Kate Bulla, Kevin Caldwell, Josh Hinkle, Ashley Hughes, Alle Sims
Costume shop Interns: Carolyn Beltcher, Savannah Jillani


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