Leydi Cris Cobo Cordon
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
All eyes are on Belle and the Beast as an ominous fog overtakes the stage. Will her bold declaration of love be enough to lift the curse? Freedom High School invites you to be their guest as they challenge the ideas of what makes a monster in their production Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
Bringing a beloved animated classic to life, Linda Woolverton's Beauty and the Beast tells the story of Belle, a misfit in her small provincial town, after she offers to take her father's spot as a prisoner in an enchanted castle in the woods. With the help of Alan Menken's music and Howard Ashman and Tim Rice's lyrics, the tale as old as time challenges assumptions made based on appearances as Belle begins to fall for the monstrous Beast that rules over the castle and its servants-turned-furniture. The almost thirty-year-old musical has won countless awards and even received nine Tony Award nominations during the course of its original Broadway run.
The distinct characterization in the ensemble's performances created a vibrantly populated town for the story to take place in, breathing life into the production. Even roles with minimal lines had their moments to shine, such as when Nikita Shah stripped off her cloak in one grand, swift motion to reveal her true identity as the Enchantress during the prologue. Even in larger group numbers, the actors utilized their brief moments in the spotlight to the fullest, elevating the performance from enjoyable to memorable. From the Carpet's incredibly acrobatic dance solo in "Be Our Guest" to the Silly Girls' frantic fighting with their color-coordinated fans in "The Mob Song," Freedom's cast proved that with the right attitude, no role was insignificant.
Embodying the flame between Belle and the Beast, Sloane Helmick's Lumiere truly shined with her fiery fingers. Adorned with long wick-like nails in shades of orange and red, Helmick would twiddle her fingers to mimic the flickering of a flame whenever things were heating up between the two lovebirds. In one instance, Helmick had been excitedly flittering her fingers in anticipation of the Beast's confession of love to Belle, but upon hearing that he let her go instead, Helmick snuffed out the flames by abruptly placing her hands into a frozen fist.
With a splash of glam and sass, Sam Borromeo brought a flirtatious energy to the stage as Babette. As a choreographer, Borromeo did excellently in all of the dances, especially in her sharp, yet heartwarming waltz with Helmick's Lumiere in "Be Our Guest" that symbolized the push-and-pull of their relationship. However, Borromeo continued to shine even in her non-dancing movements, such as when she flirtatiously sat on Maurice's lap to make Lumiere jealous.
This show was incredibly dance heavy and included new dance numbers such as the Nutcracker-reminiscent blend of acrobatics and ballet for the wolves. The costume design created by Aadya Modugumudi, Conan Boland, and the costumes team was wonderfully executed in a way that accentuated the beautiful silhouettes of the choreography without hindering movement. The scenic painting done by Brogan Haley, Annika Pugh, and the set team sparkled with intricate detail that brought the royal setting to life. The crew painstakingly painted every stone brick on the castle, but the tedious task paid off and helped materialize a castle that was grand, yet chillingly isolated.
Filled to the brim with lively dancers and sweet vocalists, as adults and young children alike watched from the audience, there was most definitely something there in Freedom High School's charming production of Beauty and the Beast: magic.
W.T. Woodson High School
An enchanted castle lies deep in the woods, ordinary household objects magically come to life, but a frightening beast lurks within. Freedom High School's production of Beauty and the Beast captivated audience members of all ages with this "tale as old as time."
Beauty and the Beast originated from the Disney classic by the same name, released in 1991. Its popularity led to a musical adaptation by Linda Woolverton just two years later in 1993. It tells the story of the Beast, a secluded creature burdened by hate, hidden away in an enchanted castle. His life fatefully crossed with a smart girl named Belle, who went from his prisoner to his friend, teaching him how to love just in time. Freedom High School's production of this charming musical brought color and energy to the stage with skillful actors, singers, dancers, and technical designers.
Sarisha Thakur as Belle was nothing less than spectacular, taking the stage with grace and poise. She delivered not only excellent characterization and stage presence, but a gorgeous voice in songs such as "Is This Home?" and "A Change in Me." Thakur and Eric Wilfong (the Beast) showed authentic growth in their characters through expressing their emotional range.
Actors' chemistry throughout the show was faithfully executed with full commitment. A perfect example was seen between Lefou (Cami DiVenere) and Gaston (Carlton Krueger). DiVenere's frantic bubbliness contrasted with Krueger's cruel composure, highlighting the comical contrast between Lefou and Gaston. Nimbly leaping about the stage, DiVenere's energy never waned. Her full dedication was executed flawlessly.
More outstanding performances were displayed by the castle objects, including Lumiere (Sloane Helmick), Mrs. Potts (Ivy Ridenhour), Cogsworth (Sydney Munsell), Babette (Sam Borromeo), Madame De La Grande Bouche (Heather McLaughlin), and Chip (Maddie Amme). With such different personalities for each character in the ensemble, each actor showed natural reactions to their scene mates, with smooth and realistic movements that perfectly fit the heart of their characters. Borromeo's skill as a dancer was not only stunning but elegant. Clearly a well-practiced dancer, Borromeo commanded the stage with Babette's sass and her own accomplished abilities.
Borromeo also assisted Ella Walters in stunning choreography design. Meticulously planned, each song kept the entire ensemble busy, managing to fill the whole stage in "Gaston" and "Be Our Guest" without feeling crowded. Borromeo and Walters' choice to individually feature ensemble members let dancers such as Stuart Crumbliss show off their masterful acrobatics that would otherwise have not been exhibited.
Costumes designed by Conan Boland and Aadya Modugumudi were nothing short of exquisite. Designed to properly represent the time period of the show, each costume did just that with every lovely detail adding animation and life to each character. Boland and Modugumudi's designs were not only visually magnificent, but also physically practical, allowing dancers to perform without hindrance, specially crafted to move as if it were dancing along with the performers.
For such an involved show, the set was a daunting challenge. Set designers and constructors Brogan Haley and Annika Pugh exceeded expectations, finding clever ways to overcome difficulties. Rotating parts of the set gave the possibility to include multiple locations in a single set piece, all with beautifully hand-painted design features.
With genuine affection and joy, Freedom High School made their production of Beauty and the Beast a perfect example of what this show is all about: love, excitement, and magic.