The Ralston Community Theatre is presenting “Beauty and the Beast” as its 40th annual summer show.
That’s quite an accomplishment, I think, and they’re offering quite a production. It appears that they’ve prepared this one with tender loving care. It’s their best in recent years.
Given enough time and space, I probably could come up with 40 reasons to see this play. A few that come to mind:
1. Belle is luminous. Aubri Devashrayee endears herself to the crowd from her first notes in the opening song. A more sincere performance would be hard to come by, and she sets the standard for the entire show. This is the first time I’ve seen her, and I hope it’s not the last.
2. Gaston is a buffoon. That might sound like an anti-reason, but he’s supposed to be an over-the-top narcissist, so that’s actually a compliment. Jonathan Berger doesn’t hold anything back. His sidekick LeFou (Eric Micks) is funny, too.
3. The orchestra is extra special. It seems as though the musicians wanted to expand their sound for the anniversary production, though it also seems as though there weren’t many more instruments than in previous years. Maybe it’s the mix. Definitely it’s the personnel and music director Chris Ebke.
4. The story is truly “a tale as old as time,” and it never fails to touch my heart. I’ve said it before: I’m a sucker for redemption, and the Beast (the reliably tuneful Jesse Black) is one of the best examples of how love can change anyone. If only the world at large (and those who lead it) would remember its power. Black also displayed cool under pressure when his mic betrayed him on opening night.
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5. It’s not only the 40th anniversary of the theater, it’s the 200th production for director Todd Uhrmacher, who’s clearly the Man to the cast, crew and community. He sheepishly appeared onstage before the opening night curtain to accept an award for that accomplishment. His body language indicated that he feels more at home behind the scenes — and that’s cool. He obviously excels in his chosen role.
6. Belle’s shiny and poofy yellow ball gown is beautiful. It will impress all the Disney princess wannabes in the audience. Leah Skorupa-Mezger gets credit for that satin creation and the rest of the village costumes, also cool.
7. Human actors portray objects with ease. Five lead the way: David Ebke as Lumière, Sean Graves as Gogsworth, Sarah Ebke as Mrs. Potts, Amanda Murtaugh as Babette and Beth King as Madame de la Grande Bouche. Most of them have very silly (and very awkward to wear) costumes — after all, how, exactly, do you make non-bulky outfits for a chifforobe, a teapot, a chandelier or a mantel clock? These folks not only maneuver in these get-ups, they dance in them. Same with ensemble members who are forks, napkins and other household goods. Two special mentions: Brynn Fitzgerald as Chip, who spends all of the show with her head, wrapped in a “teacup,” poking out of a box; and the kid who played the cartwheeling rug, whose name isn’t specified in the program.
8. You can bring the family. In fact, your kids will be sad if you don’t.
9-40. It’s a good, old-fashioned celebration, and a wonderful way to spend a summer night. Happy birthday, Ralston Community Theatre.