Arts musical review

Be our guest, be our guest, be our guest!

Next Act presents a tale as old as time for their 2019 CPW musical

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The Beast (Long Nguyen ’19) sings "If I Can't Love Her" in Next Act's 'Beauty and the Beast.'

Beauty and the Beast
Directed by Katie Henshaw ’20
Performed by Next Act
Next House TFL
April 11–13 at 8 p.m.

Scene: licks of gold light, a swell of orchestral music, and the handsome prince (Long Nguyen ’19) becomes a hideous Beast. So begins a sparkling, delightful performance of the classic fairytale-turned-Broadway-musical, Beauty and the Beast, by the cast and crew of Next Act. Belle (Jenny Zhang ’21) slides in on the first notes of her eponymous song, proclaiming her desire to see someplace bigger and brighter than the small French village that she grew up in. Soon enough, her wish is granted in the worst way, when she becomes entangled within the Beast’s claws after he imprisons her father Maurice (John Adeyeye ’20). And the rest? A tender story about how Belle finds her home even in such a cold, unfamiliar place as the Beast’s castle — a bit like how we’ve all found our home here at MIT, as director Katie Henshaw points out. Happily ever after in our home, sweet home; it’s a tale as old as time.  

The musical ran throughout CPW within the confines of a rather small makeshift stage built in the middle of Next House TFL, delighting audiences of prefrosh and MIT students alike. Each scene brimmed with uproarious laughter, if not the melodious voices of Zhang, Nguyen, Deuce Foutch ’19, and more. Of key note include the ensemble of living, breathing furniture dancing merrily to the classic melody of “Be Our Guest,” Zhang singing about the new perspective the Beast had given her in “A Change in Me,” and Nguyen’s emotional outpouring of desire to learn how to love in “If I Can’t Love Her.” The talent of cast and crew was apparent in the performance, but given a tight rehearsal schedule and a limited pool of resources to work with, it’s understandable that the team would trade some performance quality for audience entertainment. Opening night betrayed hints of nervousness, as was apparent in the fight scene between the Beast and Gaston (Deuce Foutch) choreographed by Joey Noszek ’20 — though the scene was planned carefully, the actors made a few missteps and false movements. But all in all, the crew sewed together scenes of romantic tenderness, comic hilarity, and emotional poignance into a wholly entertaining show.

It’s obvious that the actors and actresses had a blast pouring their emotions into the iconic roles. Rishabh Chandra ’19 played Le Fou, Gaston's adulating sidekick. “Le Fou is a dunce, an utter moron who needs an alpha to cling onto. This is not a personality I have any affiliation with, and it’s the comedy of his sheer weakness as a human being that makes him fun to play.” Justina Yang ’19 said she loved “being exaggeratedly ‘wound-up’” for her role as Cogsworth, the head butler transformed into a rather high-strung talking clock. “I’ve had an amazing time acting, singing, dancing, and bringing this story to life with everyone else!”

Rishabh has been part of six previous musicals in his life, but this one was his first one at MIT, as both a cast member and vocal director at that. He was originally only vocal director, but he stepped in to cover Le Fou’s role when the original student playing the character fell sick — merely two weeks before performances. Having performed in Beauty and the Beast in an ensemble production in middle school, Rishabh explained, “I always wanted to play Le Fou… while I didn’t have much time in the ‘process of perfecting the role,’ it was always something I had wanted to play.” Rishab’s favorite scene he played in the musical is one when Belle rebukes Gaston, “[The Beast] is not the monster, Gaston; you are!” and Le Fou collapses on the stage, hurt, as if he himself were the target of Belle’s insult rather than Gaston.

Musicals demand hours and hours of attentive practice perfecting the tiniest detail. Rishabh explains, regarding his role as vocal director, “The audience does not realize the amount of effort it takes to sing all harmonies accurately and in time with the pit. The first time we ran the orchestra and the cast together, it was… bad. And there is a major skill in just being able to listen and coordinate correctly, especially in a dorm setting where the acoustics are less than ideal, and we don’t have mics.” Helen Read ’20, oboist in the pit orchestra, explained that syncing up orchestra and cast was especially difficult: “We don't have a monitor, and the actors can't see Zach, the musical director… during [the] final dress [rehearsal], we added a woodblock beat into ‘The Mob Song’ to try to help the actors hear the beat.”

But with mounds of challenges and hard work comes mounds of fun for the cast and crew — after all, when you spend hours upon hours each week rehearsing together, you can’t help but have some fun. One of Rishabh’s favorite parts of rehearsal was making song parodies — once, they mashed up the title song, “Beauty and the Beast,” with “Don’t Stop Believing.”

All in all, Next Act pulled off a splendid rendition of Beauty and the Beast for this year’s CPW showings.