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Jessica Grové as Belle and James Snyder as the Beast in "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" at Music Circus.
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With Summer Comes Some Hot Theater

The calendar has finally caught up with the weather. It’s hot, it’s summer — and with summer comes theater festivals. It’s play time, outside and in.

Belle of the Ball

Though not technically a festival, Music Circus is a seasonal tradition just as “The Nutcracker” ballet is. The 66th Music Circus season kicked off Tuesday with a two-week run of the family musical officially known as “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” Sacramento native and Broadway veteran James Snyder plays The Beast, a handsome but vain and selfish prince put under a spell that turned his outward appearance into the ugly creature he was inside. Only the love of a good woman, as they say, could save. Enter Belle. Jessica Grové, who played Ariel in the 2012 Music Circus version of “The Little Mermaid,” plays The Beauty, aka Belle. Peter Saide, last seen at Music Circus as Berger in Hair in 2015, has a tall order playing Gaston, the insufferably egotistical and impossibly handsome suitor of Belle. He thinks he deserves her because, after all, she’s the only one in the kingdom as pretty as he.

In addition to the fairytale love story of “Beauty and the Beast,” much of the play’s attraction lies in its fantasy: People turned into objects, such as candlesticks, timepieces, dishes, utensils and such. The costuming that gives life to the illusions of Lumiere (Michael Paternostro), Mrs. Potts (Shannon Warne), Madame de la Grand Bouche (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) and others is the brilliant work created for director Glenn Casale’s magical European tour version of the play. With his vast Music Circus experience, Casale knows how to stage a show in the round, and he does this one precisely right.

The songs, of course, are a major part of the show’s appeal. Several of the standouts are “Be Our Guest,” a huge ensemble production; “Gaston”; and, of course, the title tune.

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is a thrill for young audiences (age 4 and older), but it is great entertainment for adults as well. It has some humor that younger audiences won’t get, but the slapstick and pratfalls will get a reaction from everyone.

See the show at 7:30 p.m. through Saturday this week and Tuesday through Saturday next week (June 27-July 1). Matinees are Thursday and Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 3pm, both weeks. Tickets range from $45-$89. Music Circus is located at 1419 H St. in Sacramento.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 557-1999 go to  SacramentoMusicCircus.com.

Next on the schedule at Music Circus are “On the Town,” with a score by Leonard Bernstein, July 11-16 and “9 t0 5 The Musical,” with songs by Dolly Parton, July 25-30.

You’ve got to be Mad

The Fair Oaks Theatre Festival is celebrating 35 years of theater under the stars with a production of “Reefer Madness: The Musical.” The show opened last weekend and continues Fridays to Sundays through July 23 at the Veterans Memorial Amphitheatre (7991 California Ave.) in Fair Oaks.

This R-rated musical comedy is a satire on the hysteria of the 1930s anti-marijuana movie. A church-produced “documentary” (one of the early examples of “fake news”) about the evils of weed blamed everything from rape, murder and suicide on the use of pot.

The plot involves the rapid descent into oblivion of Jimmy (Elio Gutierrez), a once promising high school student, suckered by demon Mary Jane. Jimmy’s biggest loss is his girlfriend Mary Lane (clever, huh?), played by Melissa Brausch. In addition to some new performers to this stage, the cast includes several Fair Oaks Theatre regulars, including Brianne Hidden-Wise as Mae, who “hosts” the local drug den; Analise  Langford-Clark as the Placard Girl, who carries signs much like you see done at professional wrestling events; and Joe Hart, who adds mirth to the ensemble.

The songs are unmemorable, but generally performed well (Tracy Martin-Shearer is vocal director), while the music (music director is Kirt Shearer) ranges from Broadway-style show tunes to ’30s-era swing. The director is Karen Bombardier and the choreographer is Jacob Montoya.

This is the first show in 30 years without artistic director Bob Irvin, who died last September. The season is dedicated to his memory, and the closing production of the festival will be “Shrew,” a musical based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” Irvin began this adaptation but didn’t complete it before his death. It was finished by festival alumna Jennifer Longo.

“Reefer Madness” will be performed at 8:30 p.m. Fridays-Sundays. General admission is $18 Fridays and Saturdays, $12 on Sundays. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 966-3683 or go to fairoakstheatrefestival.com.

Shakespeare in the Park

The Sacramento Shakespeare Festival marks its 32nd year of performances in William Land Park with the opening of “The Comedy of Errors” on June 30. Luther Hanson directs the play, which he has set on the Mediterranean during Carnival in 1900. The show features original music and a live band.

“All’s Well That Ends Well,” directed by Lori Ann DeLappe-Grondin, opens July 7 and plays in repertory with “Errors” through July 30. The play is set in the late medieval period around the time the original story that inspired Shakespeare appeared in the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.

“The Comedy of Errors” will be performed at 8 p.m. June 30, July 1,  14, 22, 27 and 29 and at 6 p.m. July 9 and 16. “All’s Well That Ends Well” opens July 7 and plays at 8 p.m. July 8, 13, 15, 21 and 28 and at 6 p.m. July 23 and 30. Tickets are $18 general, and $15 for students, seniors, SARTA members, and those with disabilities.  Children ages 6 to 12 are free.  No one under 6 is admitted.  Performances are in the William A. Carroll Amphitheatre in William Land Park.

For tickets or for more information, go to  sacramentoshakespeare.net.

Photo courtesy of Music Circus

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About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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