REVIEW: CTH’s “Beauty and the Beast” filled with humor, warmth and great performances

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In its 31-year history, the Community Theatre of Howell has performed more than 50 big-stage musicals. The group’s current production – Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” – certainly ranks as one of the most flat-out entertaining.

CTH has been trying for years to get the rights to perform “Beauty and the Beast,” but national touring companies kept throwing a wrench into the plans. The stars finally lined up for the group to perform it this fall, though, and man, was it worth the wait.

The show opened at the Howell High School Freshman Campus and continues this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 18-20). Word has it that Sunday’s show is almost sold out, but good tickets are still available for Friday’s show (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday’s two shows (2 and 7:30 p.m.).

Don’t miss your chance. Go to cththeatre.org right now and get your tickets before they’re gone.

Director Kevin Rogers and his staff have brought a spectacular production to the stage, full of color and humor and energy. They also do a beautiful job of delivering the show’s main message – that beauty is found from within

The story is a familiar one to every Disney fan. In a small French village, a beautiful young woman named Belle is imprisoned in a castle by a horrible-looking beast, surrounded by scores of enchanted objects. The only way that all of them – including the Beast – can return to their human form is if the Beast is able to find true love and be loved in return.

Rogers is blessed with a splendidly talented cast, and he makes the most of it.

Hannah Grischke was born to play Belle. Her voice is spot-on perfect for the role, and she masterfully moves from loathing the Beast to understanding him. She brings a lot of nuance to the role, and one of the best things about her performance is how she always manages to find just the right pitch – never too big, never too small. She’s outstanding.

Likewise, Justin Schnute is a perfect Beast. He handles the transformation that the role requires beautifully – from loathsome Beast to lovable Beast – and does a particularly wonderful job of using body language to convey his emotions. And his Beastly voice is one of the best you’ll ever hear in this role.

One of the best roles in musical theater is that of Gaston – the super-arrogant villain/comic relief – and Rick Spangler is a delight in the role. Some of the best scenes in the show are his, and he wrings every bit of humor out of the role. And young Ethan O’Dell as his sidekick Lefou is an excellent comic foil.

Director Rogers also made an excellent call by including more “Silly Girls” in the cast (the girls who fawn all over Gaston). The script only calls for three, but Rogers expands that to nine. It works wonderfully. They’re hilarious.

Then you have the various Enchanted Objects – the servants who occupy the Beast’s castle. To a person (or to an object), they each bring humor and warmth to the show – and they’re all exquisitely costumed.

As the Laurel and Hardy of the show, Cogsworth the butler (Dane Douglas) and Lumiere the candelabra (Foyid Mockbil) are great, and they play off each other so well. On opening night, the audience couldn’t get enough of them.

As the motherly Mrs. Potts, Sarah Thomas brings tenderness and warmth, and her solo song (“Beauty and the Beast”) is a highlight of the show. As her child, Chip the teacup, little Lila Manning is bright and cheerful and has a stage presence well beyond her years.

Babette (Tori Rogers) is a hoot as the French feather duster, and she has excellent comic chemistry with her boyfriend Lumiere. And Bronsyn Sacker delivers an excellent performance as the opera-singing Wardrobe.

Special mention is also due to Brent Bishop, who plays Belle’s supposedly crazy father, Maurice. His song with Belle in the first act (“No Matter What”) sets the tone for the entire show.

Like most of CTH’s big-stage musicals, “Beauty and the Beast” is filled with bravura dance numbers. Anni Ulman’s choreography in this show is big, bold and clever, particularly in the show’s two biggest numbers, “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest.” On opening night, the audience wouldn’t stop clapping after “Be Our Guest.” It was that good.

There are also two great scenes with the Wolves, the scary animals that terrorize anyone who dares walk through the forest. I won’t spoil them in case you’re planning on seeing the show, but just know that the scenes are perfectly lit and costumed.

CTH’s “Beauty and the Beast” is everything that a family-friendly, big-stage musical should be. Credit Kevin Rogers, the staff and cast for bringing such a treasure to Livingston County. Do yourself and your family a favor and see it.

Performances of “Beauty and the Beast” are Nov. 18-20 at the Howell High School Freshman Campus, with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for students and seniors, available online at cththeatre.org. Tickets are also available at Kahuna Coffee and Finding Roots in Howell; Big Acre in Brighton; Ed Bock Feed and Stuff in Pinckney; and Maria’s School of Dance in Fowlerville. You can also order tickets by calling the box office at 517-545-1290.

Photos by Richard Lim Photography. Visit them be clicking here.

Gaston (Rick Spangler) and the Silly Girls.
Gaston (Rick Spangler) and the Silly Girls.
About Buddy Moorehouse 84 Articles
Longtime Livingston County journalist Buddy Moorehouse is director of communications at the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.