Beauty and the Beast comes to life at Con Hall.
The annual Garnet and Gold production is always a major event, and this weekend was a reminder of why that is: they never fail to bring an audience to standing ovation. This year’s show—Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—was no exception to that rule. Garnet and Gold’s production made for a stunning rendition of the familiar story: a pair of outcasts living on the fringes of their society, who discover that inner beauty and strength can defy even the cruelest of circumstances.
Even before the lights came up for the prologue, it quickly became clear that Director Karen Valanne had prepared a masterpiece; the silhouettes of a noble prince and an aging crone were projected forward onto five long, white curtains in front of centre stage. This was to be the first of many elegant (and often creative) reflections of familiar scenes from the Disney animated film that is widely familiar to the audience—in this case, the stained glass windows from the movie’s own prologue. “You’re the generation that saw this when you were little,” said Valanne. “You’re the perfect audience.”
Meghan McLean shone in her role as Belle, a beautiful and imaginative young woman ostracized by her sleepy French community for her free spirit and bookish intelligence. As Belle supports the antics of her aging father Maurice (played by Nick Vince) and rejects the romantic advances of village bully and pretty-boy, Gaston (a confident He-Man portrayed by Ben Winn), she finds herself at the mercy of the Beast (Odum Abekah).
Abekah’s performance, exuding a quiet confidence in his spoken lines and a personal flair in his singing, was all the more noteworthy for the fact that it was his first theatrical performance.
“It was very scary,” he admitted after the show. “But I had a lot of encouragement from the others, and that was really helped.” That feedback and support between actors proved invaluable in developing his role. “My biggest challenge was letting myself really get into the character,” he said.
Odum’s quiet delivery could occasionally be lost in the music, however, and this wasn’t helped by Garnet and Gold’s chronic problem of overly quiet microphones for the leads.
“The show went well,” said Sound Technician Sam Magee, “But it’s difficult to solve problems when you have twenty microphones to monitor.” While this was arguably the main complaint from audience members, it was nonetheless a minor detraction from an otherwise widely enjoyed musical.
“At parts, they sounded just like the movie,” commented Nick MacLeod, who was working security. “It was almost eerie.”
The live orchestra, conducted beautifully by Musical Director Dylan Maddix, provided a flawless score throughout the production. While their performance of the classic songs was phenomenal, their talents were best, if perhaps subtly, demonstrated through their use of underscoring—a technique often used in film, when music is softly played under dialogue, or alongside a visual scene in order to set a mood or emphasize a theme. Uncommon in traditional musical theatre, the choreography of stage actions, combined with the more subtle thematic music of underscoring, makes pacing incredibly difficult. “Compared to The Sound of Music, which had a more traditional structure, underscoring was definitely a big challenge here,” said Valanne.
Actors and crew members also noted the requirement for careful coordination. “We all had to work hard together,” said Vocal Director Colin Frotten. “But it was amazing to see the finished work.” This sentiment was echoed by graduating student Jessica Sharp (Mrs. Potts). She reflected fondly on her final performance with the theatre society, saying, “At the end, you have all the emotions… the adrenaline… it takes every single person to make it work.”