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Beauty and the Beast

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The timeless quality of the story of a young girl who falls in love with a beast spans time and geography, so it is no wonder it has been the subject of fairy tales, novels, and theater worldwide. Musical Theatre West, having finally been given permission from Disney to produce its award-winning show, has gathered a strong cast with the signature sounds required to emulate Disney's best.

As the story begins, we learn that an arrogant and selfish young prince is transformed into a beast by an enchantress, and the spell can only be broken if he can find someone to fall in love with him.  Enter Belle (Gwen Hollander), a lovely, bookish young romantic, whose father, Maurice (Doug Carfrae), is a peculiar inventor. Both are ridiculed by the locals in the village for being eccentric dreamers.

Complicating Belle's life is Gaston, (Christian Marriner), an egotistical suitor, who is rejected over and over by Belle, but his narcissism convinces him to continue the pursuit. His sidekick, LeFou (Robert Ramirez), with a strong case of hero worship, is his foil throughout.

As the story proceeds, Maurice ends up lost in the forest and is captured by the Beast. When Belle comes looking for him, the Beast offers a trade: He will let her father go if she promises to stay with him forever in his castle. She, of course, acquiesces.

Here is where Disney creates the fanciful kingdom that began in their animated version and now translates onto the stage in a crowd-pleasing spectacle.

As Belle settles into her new life in the castle, she is attended by the enchanted servants who suffered their transformations along with the prince. There's Lumière (Michael Paternostro), the maitre d' /candelabra who vies with Majordomo/pendulum clock

Cogsworth (Brandon L. Armstrong) as  principal caregivers to the Beast.  Mrs. Potts (Cathy Newman) is the housekeeper and resident teapot whose son, Chip (Wyatt R Larrabee), accompanies her as a large teacup. As a highly decorated French wardrobe, Madame De La Grand Bouche (Emily King Brown), adds color to the characterizations. Babette (Melina Kalomas), Lumiere's girlfriend, Monsieur D'Arque (Tom G McMahon), the local asylum director, and three of Gaston's wannabe brides, (Marliss Amiea, Sydney Blair, and Laleh Khorsandi) fill out the principal characters.

Hollander and Marshall are both outstanding as the couple who learn to love each other in spite of outward appearances. Marriner makes a credible, threatening villain, and Ramirez provides lots of humorous moments. Paternostro, Newman, and Armstrong are notable in both musical numbers and acting skills.

The imaginative nature of Linda Woolverton's book is charming,  but music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice are the pièce de résistance of the show. Many of the songs have become popular beyond the confines of the production.

David F. M. Vaughn's direction is spot-on throughout the entire production. He manages dancing utensils, a gaggle of silly girls, a crowd of villagers, and the Disney criteria seemingly effortlessly. Choreographer Bill Burns' dance numbers are high caliber theatricality.

Adding to the superior quality of the production is musical direction by Michael Borth. Costumes (Tiia Torchia & Shawn Adrian DeCou), lighting (Jean-Yves Tessier), sound (John Nobori) greatly enhance the tale.

It is a treat to see this Disney stage show in local theaters, and Musical Theatre West gives it an outstanding production with much to recommend for both adults and children. On the night reviewed, the audience had a healthy number of youngsters there, and it was clear they were enjoying the entire event.



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.