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Beauty and the Beast enchants Fresno audience

The eye is immediately drawn to the silhouette of a Beast (Joey Giudici) as well as his magical rose projected upon the silk, black curtains.

Over 100 eager people fill the room for the final dress rehearsal on Dec. 6; words of excitement bounce off the walls, all in anticipation of the upcoming play.

Now in their 11th year, the Children’s Musical Theater Works, located at 2425 Fresno St. in downtown Fresno, will perform Disney’s musical production, Beauty and the Beast, featuring all of the original songs and the memorable story loved by most.

At the Fresno Memorial Auditorium, at 7:30 p.m. sharp, the performance began. The scene opens upon the prince (Marc Gonzalez) with a surreal backdrop and the play proceeds to reveal the enchanted tale.

Beauty and the Beast is the tale of a beautiful woman dreaming of adventure. She then trades her life for her father’s once she discovers he is being held captive by a beast. Forced to stay in an enchanted castle with the monster forever, Belle (Lorraine Christiansen) must live in fear.

With only talking candlesticks and dancing napkins for company, Belle quickly learns to love by the heart rather than by appearance. The Beast shows a softer side and Belle, finding “something there that wasn’t there before”, falls in love with the Beast.

While there are anxious moments and conflict, Belle’s relationship with her father, Maurice (George Akina), is tender as any father-daughter relationship should be. The times they share on stage are memorable.

“I enjoy my role as Maurice and I feel comfortable playing the part,” Akina said. “I draw from my own experience as a father and the role is very fulfilling. I enjoy playing opposite to Lorraine and I believe we work well together.”

This is the second time both have reprised their respective roles. Beauty and the Beast was on the same stage two years ago.

Gaston (Philip Bryan), the arrogant man vying for Belle’s hand in marriage, learns of Belle’s feelings for the Beast, convincing their small hometown to raid the Beast’s castle to take the so-called monster down.

The play ends with an epic battle between the two: Gaston plummets to his death from the turrets, while Beast, nearly dead, is transformed back into the handsome prince he once was through Belle’s love. The curse is lifted from the castle and the two live happily ever after.

Onstage, the play was stunning. The scenes looked professionally made and included projected images and painted backgrounds. The backdrops lit up with vibrant color and movement. The lighting, as well as every aspect of sound, was perfected to a tee. The stage makeup and costumes were absolutely fantastic, especially the Beast, who appeared just as ferocious as audiences would expect.

The amateur actors did a fantastic job singing as well as dancing, remaining in character throughout the play. The charisma of the performers aided in the success; each looked as if they enjoyed their time onstage and projected this to the audience.

Christiansen portrays Belle perfectly; not only is she stunning in all of her costumes, but her voice is enthralling and she compels the audience to keep all eyes on her.

Many students from the local community have been cast in numerous roles and Akina continues to act in community despite the age differences.

“It has been delightful working with the young student actors,” Akina said. “I normally stand on the fringe of the teenage world, but performing together with them onstage, I find they are dedicated, hard-working and extremely talented. Offstage, they have lots of fun and though I feel the generation gap, we work well together as peers.”

Audrey Arthur ?06, graduated from Clovis East High School, plays a silly girl who moons over Gaston, wishing to be his wife.

?I eat, breath, and dream my role,? Arthur said. ?The bonds that I make motivate me to stay and be in theater.?

Tori Sasso, an 8th grader from Tenaya Junior High School has wanted to be in theater since a young age. Sasso has performed in Beauty and the Beast for two years and admits to once dropping a fellow actress during rehearsal. Despite a few onstage mishaps and strenuous work schedule, Sasso has remained motivated. This year she doubles as an understudy for a silly girl and a Spatula.

?I played Annie when I was little and that experience motivated me to keep going,? Sasso said. ?It is tough but in the end it is so rewarding.?

The theater will be showing Beauty and the Beast Dec. 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22 at 7:30 P.M; and December 8, 9, 15, 16, and 22 at 2 p.m. Doors will open 30 minutes before curtain. These dates do not include the four sold-out performances for school groups.

To buy tickets to Beauty and the Beast, call the Memorial Auditorium box office at 442-3140. Tickets for students range from $10-$18 and adults tickets cost from $12-$20.

Of note: former Fresno Christian Junior High student, Jaclyn Kelly, is also in the show. She is Belle’s understudy and went on for Belle twice last week when Christiansen was ill. Akina said she did a fine job onstage and is a wonderful young lady. Kelly currently is a freshman at Clovis North High.

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    Chantelle BrownJan 16, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Mary, only you would wear this to school. But I give you props little one:)

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