In the Suburbs / A beauty of a performance
Published 6:25 am, Thursday, May 3, 2012
Once upon a time, a dedicated and gifted team of Fairfield Ludlowe High School students came together to create a fairy tale of a production of "Beauty and the Beast," an old French story. Their efforts as performers, set and costume designers, dancers and in various technical support roles swept the audience last Saturday night to a world of dancing dishes, sociable furniture and silverware; along with a teapot named Mrs. Potts; a clock named Cogsworth; and a candlestick named Lumiere. And I don't want to forget Chip, a cup rolled around the Beast's castle by Mrs. Potts.
This discombobulated group of china, silverware and furniture, transformed by the evil spell placed on the prince and the castle many years before, was pulling for the beast to fall in love with a beautiful young woman so they could have their lives back. And one of the characters was Madame de la Grande Bouche, a connoisseur of the arts, who was turned into a large chest of drawers. Bravo for Kaitlyn Carruthers, whose voice never let us forget that behind that chest was a cultured aristocrat.
This production was filled with standouts at so many different levels, thanks to the casting of artistic director Frances R. Kondziela, aka Ms. K. Part of her brilliance is how she reads people and places them in exactly the right roles. And I've heard from virtually all performers I've met over the years that Ms. K expects only the best and gets it.
In the lead was Steve Autore, in the role of a prince, turned into a beast due to his arrogance as a youth. Autore gave one of his finest performances -- and I've seen all of them. I thought his rendition of "If I Can't Love Her," his one major number, was touching and his interpretation convinced the audience, which cheered at the end of the song, that he was worthy of the love and transformation he sought. I found Autore relaxed and comfortable in this, his last role at Ludlowe.
Sarah Wiant, as Belle, the quiet, studious young woman who volunteered to stay with the beast in exchange for her father's release, gave a wonderful performance. And what a voice she has! Every number was gorgeous and she enchanted the audience with her charisma and poise.
Heather Hays stole the show as Mrs. Potts, the teapot, and she was so convincing, I could almost see her spout. When she led the ensemble in "Be Our Guest," my wife and I sang quietly along with the cast.
And her versatility as a vocalist really came through in her performance of the title song, "Beauty and the Beast." Similar to her performance as Aunt Eller in an earlier show, "Oklahoma," Heather as Mrs. Potts provided the needed balance to the craziness in the castle.
From his first entrance, we couldn't stop laughing at Will Powers, as the arrogant windbag, Gaston. He was the man the whole audience, along with Belle, would love to hate -- with a smile. He was so bumbling in his efforts to charm Belle into marrying him, one couldn't help but feel pity for the poor guy.
Gaston was even more laughable when placed next to his built-in fan club, the three silly girls -- Gillian Christian, Miriam Goldfield and Tricia Soresso. They were the perfect fan club for this buffoon.
The wolves who terrorized visitors in the dark forest outside the castle were wonderful. Their movements, deftly choreographed, gave me the impression that I was watching a wolf attack, not four dancers.
Lilly Boyd, as innocent Chip, the tea cup, was delightful. My favorite line from Chip was after the spell on the castle was lifted and she was human again when she asked her mother, Mrs. Potts, if she'd have to sleep in the cabinet that night.
Belle never thought twice about looking straight through the beast's disfigured facade and right into his soul. And by the time Belle's love for the beast created his transformation to a prince again, the theme of finding inner beauty came through.
At the end of the performance, Ms. K acknowledged everyone on her team, filling the stage with cheering students. What really stood out for me was hearing that every costume and every part of the movable set, especially in the castle, was created by students and teachers. What an amazing job they did. And how much money was saved through that monumental effort.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.