FilAms lead talented cast in Disney musical revival

BOYLE HEIGHTS, CA  – Five FilAms led a talented cast and magnificent staging of Broadway’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ on June 16, with a message of empowerment for girls in a two-act fairy tale-fantastical romp of gorgeous costumes and singing, in a theater in the middle of a vibrantly bilingual immigrant community east of downtown Los Angeles.

The mood all started with the $5 enchanted rose-shaped flashlights in pink and red being sold at the door to tween girls and those who are girls-at-heart, and the rose-scented room freshener in the restrooms.

Inside the Casa 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights, costume designer Abel Alvarado splendidly recreated the opulence of French 18th century fashion, while set designer Marco Deleon had the cast seamlessly singing in the French province one moment and in a castle with glittering chandeliers the next. Speaking of illuminating, Daniel Sugimoto’s awesome rendition of Lumiere was spectacular! And when that last petal fell off the Beast’s spellbound rose, you could hear little girls gasping.

FilAms Andrea Somera (Belle) and Maxwell Peters (LeFou)
Photo by Lydia V. Solis

I watched one girl with a white bow in her ponytail as she and other female audience members interacted with Belle, played delightfully by FilAm singer Andrea Somera. When Belle, hiding, asked if the pompous Gaston was gone, the girl with the bow enthusiastically said, “Yes,” as I heard my own elder daughter also tell Belle that, ‘Yes,’ the ghastly Gaston was gone.

The Friday before Father’s Day, June 17, emphasized the love between Belle and her eccentric scientist dad Maurice, played by Luis Marquez, in the duet (You’re all I’ve got) ‘No Matter What.’

Andrea is a Cal State Fullerton theatre and comparative religions alum who graduated as commencement speaker of the Comparative Religions Dept. Her sister Abigail Somera was part of the loveable ensemble.

Many of the audience-goers were female, and the anti-bully, ‘reading is fundamental and freeing’ message of the musical revival rang as a timely reminder of the Me Too Movement. Most of the second act showcased a library case full of hardbound books, and Belle reading to Omar Mata (the Beast) a portion of the legend of King Arthur of Pendragon and the magic sword, Excalibur.

Andrea Somera as Belle

I wished my granddaughter, Jada Chaem Lota, was old enough to enjoy this show. The little girl with the white bow hugged her knees tight when The Beast first roared onto the stage. I also caught her looking at the bio of show-stealing cutie, Bowie Bundlie, who was adorable as Chip, the teacup son of teapot, Mrs. Potts (sung admirably well by Abbe Drake). After the girl in the bow looked up Bowie’s credits, she turned her magical rose light on, then put it to her nose, before waving it around as Chip sang in the rousing, ‘Be Our Guest,’ showstopper. She yelled, “Hooray!” after that number, and burst into applause when all the house staff became human again. She leaned in every time Chip had a line of dialogue.

Music director and FilAm Caroline Benzon, a UCLA School of Music graduate, had no shortage of talented singers, including the effusive Mrs. Potts, who sang the show’s theme song, complete with British accent, and the operatic Megan Frances (Madame de la Grande Bouche, the dresser bureau), who got guffaws from the audience when her aria morphed into Meghan Trainor’s ‘All About That Bass,’ 2014 pop hit.

FilAm Maxwell Peters, Gaston’s wingman, LeFou, showed slapstick physicality as energetic and endearing as the showstopper number, ‘Be Our Guest.’ I wonder if choreographer Tania Possick was influenced by the Filipino Maglalatik, in the barroom scene because, with the cast lined up clanking pewter beer steins, it seemed so familiar to the clopping of coconut shells in the native folk dance.

Gaston, played by Marco Infante, was amazingly self-absorbed and got some loud laughs with his song lyrics, ‘We’ll make a perfect pair, like my thighs!’ and ‘I’m especially good at expectorating!’ as he aimed for a spittoon across the stage held in the air by the always-pratfalling LeFou.

Kudos to CASA 0101 founder, Josefina Lopez and producer/executive director Emmanuel Deleage; TNH Teatro Nuevos Horizontes Productions and director Rigo Tejeda; LA Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo, El Centro del Pueblo and the production team.

Maxwell Peters made a special plea after the performance to support Casa 0101 Theater because it offers community youth the chance to learn the theatrical arts. “It’s very nice to see all the kids in this full house,” he effused after the show. “Thanks so much for supporting us tonight, but keep supporting us. Remember, it costs $25 to bring an elementary-school student to performances such as this.”

My daughter Louinn wanted to apologize to Jeremy Saje who played the funny Cogsworth, because she stepped on his line, “If it isn’t Baroque…” as he was showing Belle the castle, and Louinn said, “Then don’t fix it!” Cogsworth replied, “Exactly.” She thought Cogsworth was being interactive.

It also reminded me that this wasn’t the first time Louinn bought a magical flashlight. In 1994, she came with me and my elder granddaughter, Bobbie Nicole Lota, to Disney’s ice skating rendition of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ show. Louinn bought two enchanted rose flashlights back then to give to her friends’ twin girls, but before she could gift them to the twins, she had to use them to walk down 12 flights of stairs from her Bunker Hill (Los Angeles) apartment, in the dark, during the Northridge quake.

The glow from those roses reminds us all of the beauty and strength of true love.