Arts

Review: The Candlelight Pavilion Rejoicefully Returns With ‘Beauty and the Beast’

The cast of Inland Pacific Ballet and Candlelight Pavilion's co-production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Photo by © 2024 Marsha McNeely Photography

In a proud partnership with the IPB (Inland Pacific Ballet), the Candlelight Pavilion — the beloved dinner theater institution run for 37 years by the revered Bollinger family in Claremont — has made its long-awaited return with a special co-produced version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga.

Nearly two years ago on March 20, 2022, the Pavilion, which entertained and fed its visitors spanning hundreds of shows, shuttered its doors due to obstacles related to Covid and an intrusive land development at their former Foothill Boulevard property, resulting in a substantial reduction of their guest parking spaces. The historic destination took its bows, but the family was, and continues to be, determined to find a new worthwhile space becoming of the Candlelight Pavilion’s legacy in the Inland Empire which would, unquestionably, be again filled with the company’s trademark decor, including the supple maroon booths, grand chandeliers, elegant Venetian curtain, and so on.

The cast of Inland Pacific Ballet and Candlelight Pavilion’s co-production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Photo by © 2024 Marsha McNeely Photography

However, until a grand opening of the Candlelight Pavilion’s second iteration is announced, its creative minds have demonstrated that they haven’t lost their golden hand in putting together Broadway-caliber theater, even without the dinner to match.

The crowd-pleasing Beauty and the Beast is an ideal musical to begin anew with, even more so when it’s uniquely interlaced with ballet. IPB executive director and choreographer Zaylin Cano has garnished the story of a narcissistic prince-cursed-Beast and the bright-eyed Belle with an ensemble who regularly impress with grand jetés, pirouettes, en pointe technique, etc., singularly and in pairs. The presentation is akin to a mashup between two performative worlds that must be seen to be believed.

Director and set adapter Chuck Ketter, who has overseen many a Candlelight production, sprinkles in touches to not only underscore the fabulously inhuman characters and the race-against-time suspense as experienced in the animated and live-action films, but guarantees there are plentiful laugh-out-loud moments to go along with poignant ones in a range of immersive settings. From the castle walls to the town square, tavern, and fireplace-sprawled castle interior, there are no shortage of enthralling views to appreciate — which are made all the more warmly atmospheric and appropriately dark by Stephen Yarbrough’s first-rate lighting.

Music director Marius Beltran and sound designer Nick Galvan certify the cast is both in fine vocal form and can be heard in all their splendor. The two uphold Alan Menken’s music — as well as Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s lyrics — with its galvanizing spirit. Costume designers Christa Percival, Nina Hickey, and Jean Nolden, in addition to wig designer Kirklyn Robinson, and Beast makeup designer V. Michelle Griffiths, similarly do their part to materialize the beloved personae in the flesh, handsomely catering to the imaginations of youth-aged and adult attendees alike.

(L-R) Jonathan Sharp and Lissette Garrido in Inland Pacific Ballet and Candlelight Pavilion’s co-production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Photo by © 2024 Marsha McNeely Photography

Lissette Garrido portrays bookworm Belle who is as intelligent as she is independent. In her character’s trademark blue dress, Garrido soars vocally as perhaps the best singer in the cast, ending “Home” with a crystal-clear high note and then earning a raucous applause with her belting in Act II’s “A Change in Me.”

Veteran thespian Frank Minano charmingly depicts Belle’s inventor father Maurice whose getting lost in the woods and seeking shelter in the Beast’s castle not only introduces the lead male protagonist’s concierge, but promptly sparks the evolution of an improbable love story; otherwise, its absence would ensure that the castle’s residents would never be “Human Again.” Minano credibly conveys both a father’s sweetness towards his onstage daughter and a palpable fear when he is accosted by the Beast.

The professionally ballet-trained Jonathan Sharp gives a graceful performance as the “10-foot” iconic creature with claws, growling with ominousness, skulking around, and balancing dinner demands of Belle (upon a willing sacrifice to take her father’s place as prisoner in the castle) with the realization that he must atone for his sin of turning away a sorceress cloaked as a beggar before the last rose petal falls.

Getting in the way of the Beast’s last chance at redemption is the superlatively macho, arm-flexing, and conceited Gaston who is enamored with the only woman who won’t requite his affections: Belle. Andreas Pantazis offers a powerful voice as the red-shirted egoist, brandishing chest hair to rival the Beast’s, and garnering chuckles with arbitrary pushups before solidifying himself as the main nemesis to the musical’s desired outcome. Loyally supporting Gaston’s objectives is his sidekick, LeFou, quirkily realized by Marlon James Magtibay.

(Center, L-R) Erica Marie Weisz and John LaLonde with the cast of Inland Pacific Ballet and Candlelight Pavilion’s co-production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Photo by © 2024 Marsha McNeely Photography

Les Filles De La Ville (the “Silly Girls”) comprise a trio of coquettish women who throw themselves at Gaston. These three might be construed as filler parts by some actors, but this is not the case here, as ample credit goes to Johnisa Breault, Brianne Jackson, and Berlynn Milliken who remain unrelenting with their frisky energy.

Among the performers making up the castle’s inhabitants are Allen Everman’s head-of-the-household Cogsworth whose infectious exuberance is as consistent as clockwork; Debbie Prutsman’s pink-haired and benevolent Mrs. Potts who strikes just the right chord with her gentle rendition of the title song; Eliah Cano’s endearing turn as Potts’ child-turned-cup Chip (the role is shared with Gavin Bhatarakamol); jack-of-all-trades Kirklyn Robinson (also the Beggar and aforementioned wig designer) who is spectacular as former opera diva Madame De La Grande Bouche, now a delightfully harmonious wardrobe; Erica Marie Weisz’s riotously mischievous Babette, the castle’s perky maid; and lastly, John LaLonde who kindles charismatically as the candelabrum Lumière, the maître d’ leading the musical’s most memorable number, “Be Our Guest.”

LaLonde, who has furthermore merited an ironclad reputation as the Candlelight Pavilion’s artistic director, deserves plaudits for the most evocative display of character work overall. His perfectly eccentric gestures, even with unwieldy candles aflame for arms, never miss a beat in tandem with a Parisian accent so remarkable one would think he is legitimately a native Frenchman. It’s a testament to a versatility that is conducive to delivering a wide spectrum of depictions, such as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, with equal believability.

If there is anything that can be improved with this production, it’s that pieces of the pacing can be tightened to bring out some of the comedy that slips through the cracks of Linda Woolverton’s script. Some of the cast members, moreover, tend to over-anticipate their cues, lingering for a second or two longer than necessary before the next track is played, no doubt exacerbated by the fact that the songs are recordings, not live orchestrations.

Jonathan Sharp (held aloft) with the cast of Inland Pacific Ballet and Candlelight Pavilion’s co-production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Photo by © 2024 Marsha McNeely Photography

Nevertheless, it’s not enough to detract from a Beauty and the Beast rendering that has more to say than most offerings of its ilk, bolstered by not just the Candlelight Pavilion’s exultant homecoming, but the novel inclusion of ballet. Led by IPB company dancers Andrew Tiamzon, Reece Taylor, Brandon J, Kelsey Dorr, and Joshua Collins, who, with the rest of their balletic peers, sundry triple-threat talents, and a collection of advanced child entertainers who particularly shine in “The Mob Song,” this Disney musical in Rancho Cucamonga is indubitably worthy of the interest it has amassed.

Besides, just as Lumière and his unforgettable cadre conjure a banquet for Belle, this Beauty and the Beast is only a feastful taste of what dedicated Candlelight Pavilion patrons might come to hopefully expect in the future.

Inland Pacific Ballet and Candlelight Pavilion’s production of Beauty of the Beast runs through Sunday, March 10th at the Lewis Family Playhouse. All subsequent dates of the show are sold out. For more information about the production, visit ipballet.org.

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