By Daniel Skora
High school plays aren’t what they used to be. Decades ago, a mother and father made their annual trip to the school gym to see their son or daughter perform in a cheesy drama they probably had never heard of and whose script had been in the public domain long before they had ever been born. The set the students were performing on was something in the vein of cardboard flats painted with whatever colors the guy at the hardware store was willing to donate. At least one of those flats was guaranteed to topple over at every performance. If it were a turn-of-the-century piece that was being performed (not this last turn-of-the-century, but the one before that) costumes were anything grandpa was willing to loan or grandma was able to stitch together from old aprons. Tickets to the show were run off on mimeograph machines, and if you needed some water during intermission, the bubbler was located down the stairs and around the corner. No one asked you to turn off your cell phones or pagers because they hadn’t yet been invented.
Boy, was I surprised to find out what’s calling itself high school theatre today. This week I had the opportunity to see the Marian-Rice Players perform Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”, and it was a stunner. The first thing I noticed was that the tickets at Will Call were computer generated and had everything on them, from the seat where I was to sit to whether I had already paid for the tickets, to how much tread was still available on the tires of my car. Just kidding about that last one… I think.
Entering the Marian High School Auditorium made me wish I was back in school. The auditorium is a beautiful facility, with individual seats laid out in front of the stage and plush seats with armrests on risers that angled up to the ceiling. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house. The ceiling was an attraction in itself, with lighting and artistically shaped acoustical panels flowing in black waves. But what really made the evening so enjoyable was the performance itself; it was one incredibly entertaining show. Clare Parks anchors the production in the role of Belle. Parks is an extremely talented young lady who scores high marks in voice, acting, and comedic abilities. Her singing voice vibrates with a unique warble whenever a lyric comes to an end and whenever, I presume, that she chooses to use it. Her performance as Belle was both self-assured and mature beyond her years. It’s been forever since I’ve been able to write this about a young stage performer, but I can honestly write it about Miss Parks: She has an incredibly promising career ahead of her should she chose to pursue it, and it’s with best wishes that she’s truly able to enjoy every exciting minute of it.
Drawing from such a limited pool of performers as are contained in the student bodies of the Marion and Brother Rice High Schools, the acting/voice abilities of the cast as a whole varies greatly. The leads include: Kyle Callaghan (Beast) Riley Maher (Gaston), Justin Richmond (LeFou), Matt Bonasso (Lumier, with a credible accent!), Mark Woods (Cogsworth), Melanie Roma (Mrs. Potts), Paige Rosinski (Chip), Kate Blaszczak (Babette) Rose Iannuzzi (Madame de la Grande Bouche – gotta love that amazing high note).
The show is directed by Deborah Adams and produced by Christine Borrello. There are excellent production values throughout and the program lists over two dozen people on the adult staff. The show has a bright, colorful set, except when scene changes, of which there are many, require it to be a dark, colorful set. Set design/Construction Director is Les Adams, Master Carpenter is Michael Campion, Tech Director is Noel Montales, Art Director is Teresa Pogats, and Art/Set Build Supervisor is Brendan Sharp.
The Choreography (by Roberta Campion), is always fun and exciting, even when it’s obvious that some of those putting one foot in front of the other are hoofing it for the first time. Two of the best numbers are the acrobatic wolves in the forest, and the tankard-clinking number that takes place in a pub. The costumes are top-notch (Carrie Huber, Costumer) and will make you think you’ve somehow accidentally walked into the Fisher Theatre.
The live orchestra is conducted by Jim Territo, vocal direction is by Amy Blevins. It takes scores of people to put on a show that’s as involved as “Beauty and the Beast”, and for that the students, parents, teachers and friends of Marion and Brother Rice High Schools should be commended. For all those in front of or behind the curtain who have not been mentioned in this review, thanks for a grand and fabulous show.
High school plays are often the wellspring of an actor’s career. Many an actor will tell you that their careers began in earnest when they first appeared in their high school play. “Beauty and the Beast” is your chance to say “I saw them when”.
Music is by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book is by Linda Woolverton. The show is being performed March 17th through the 20th. If you happen to see this before the show closes, you can still catch the Saturday evening performance or the Sunday matinee. If not, there’s always next year, same time, same stage, for another big M-R Players production. Marian High school is located in Bloomfield Hills.