Playing thru November 26, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — My first time attending a show at The Children’s Theater was tonight for The Masque of Beauty and the Beast.  I expected a cast of young ones running about singing “Be Our Guest.”  Instead, I found myself delightfully entertained by a keen-witted lyrical script by Michael Elliot Brill. While the Disney version of this tale is certainly a cherished DVD in my collection, I thoroughly enjoyed Brills poetic verse from the adult and young adult cast.

The story weaves us through a similar story line of the Beauty and the Beast I’ve come to love with some notable differences. The stage comes alive as our Narrator (Emily Holmgren) captures our imaginations.  Similar to Shakespeare, I find that a subtle change in language causes the audience to actively listen right from the beginning. Thus, I believe the audience allows the magic of live theater to suspend reality that much faster. According to my 10-year-old co-reviewer, the Narrator was her favorite character because without her, there wouldn’t have been a story to tell.  Holgrem certainly did a wonderful job capturing the children’s and adult’s attention alike. It also helped that Holmgren gave my niece a hug after the show, which thrilled her to pieces.

As the story opens, we meet Beauty (Mattie June Smith) who lives a wealthy life with her two sisters (Meighan Smith and Megan Smyth) and her humble, mild mannered father (Sean Pickell).  However, it seems dad is a bit behind on his bills and the bad man creditor (Matthew Windham) comes to take all their money, thus banishing them to the lowly family farm.

I was impressed with all of the actors in this production.  They played to the children well, over-the-top at times, but I think it worked perfect with the setting, story and audience.  The chorus of Grotesques were fun to watch, choreographed well and were fun greeters before the show even started. Beauty’s sisters played against each other with great fun. Smith was feisty and she made it easy for me to dislike her.  The blonde sister (Smyth) was hilarious with excellent comedic timing.  Her off-the-cuff remarks and use of body language added several layers to their story. I fell in love with the father.  Pickell is young but the way he carried himself, delivered his lines and doted over his daughters made me want to jump on stage and give him a bear hug for being such a great dad.

The collector (Windham) was probably my favorite character of the night. Windham was evil with such polite charisma that he quickly became the guy I loved to hate. The part was also amazingly well written. There is just something about the bad guy reciting poetic verse. Maybe I liked it because it reminded me a bit of Shakespeare’s Richard III. He’s a bad guy, we all know it, and he makes no apologies for it.

The story follows our broken and devastated father into the forest for one of my favorite scenes. As the chorus of “grotesques” surround him with trees that are alive and closing in on him, reality is whisked away and the audience is pulled into the frightful dark forest. Although the music was a bit loud at this point and I struggled to hear the Narrator the scene was still beautifully staged and lit.

Fleeing from the smothering trees, our father ends up at the home of the Beast. The acting, staging and lights all did wonders for this terrible Beast. With the father cowering before him and his expansive and beautiful wings flexing and fluttering behind him, it was truly a theatrical success.

We all know how the story goes so I won’t relay a scene-by-scene commentary.  The relationship that develops between Beauty (Mattie June Smith) and the Beast (Landon Kraczek) was completely believable.  My niece was quite taken with Beauty and how “sweet and nice” she was.  The dance scene between the two was endearing and showcased the soft side of Beast falling in love with her.  Kraczek’s stage presence was powerful and well directed.  His transformation was evident even in his physical presence on stage.

On the technical side, the set was too sparse for my liking, but the staging and use of space worked quite well.  Director Joanne M. Parker made great use of the space and the actors were fluid and performed to all audience members.  The costumes (Cathy Maurer) were incredibly well done, especially the masque of the Beast.  However, towards the end of the performance, several of the pearls from Beauty’s costume fell off.  This distracted me only because I was so concerned for the safety of the actors. I was sure that someone would step on a pearl and fall.

Finally, a playbill would be nice.  For me, as a reviewer, being able to take notes, review the directors thoughts, read actors bios, and pair up the characters with the actors names is incredibly useful.  As a patron, my niece was anxious for a “souvenir” of the night.  In addition, a $12 ticket is a great deal for an adult, but I would recommend a discounted ticket for the young ones.

After the show, I asked my niece what her favorite part was, as she is the intended audience.  In addition to meeting the cast, getting an autograph from all of them along with a photo, she said she couldn’t pick a favorite part because she loved the whole thing.  Sounds like a success to me.   I’m thinking that The Children’s Theater will become a regular venue for us!

The Masque of Beauty & the Beast plays every Friday at 7 PM and every Saturday at 1 PM and 4:30 PM at the Salt Lake at The Children’s Theater (3605 S. State Street, Salt Lake City). Tickets are $12. For more information, visit