By Billy Liggett | Photos by Melissa Gross (Facebook)
Peggy Taphorn’s 10th season as artistic director at Temple Theatre has been her best. “Footloose” kicked it off by breaking box office records, only to be topped in March by “Church Basement Ladies,” a popular destination for the church bus crowd.
“Beauty and the Beast” — the final show of the season and now in the third week of its four-week run — has been just as popular, if not more so. Nearly every performance has sold out, and only tickets remain for the matinee performances next week.
Starring Hailey Best (previously of “Legally Blonde” and “My Fair Lady”) and Timothy Houston in the title roles, “Beauty and the Beast” has more going for it than a large cast, great costumes and the “Disney” name … it’s also very good. And it’s very big, featuring some of the biggest special effects seen at a Temple show.
“Since this was the final show of my 10th season, I wanted to throw out everything but the kitchen sink on the stage,” Taphorn said. “Early in the production meetings, I told the crew I wanted confetti canons at the end of ‘Be Our Guest,’ and everybody looked at me like I was crazy. But guess what? We have confettie canons at the end of ‘Be Our Guest.’ We also have eight new LED lights for this show, which we’ll be able to use for future shows, too.
“It’s because of the success of ‘Footloose’ and ‘Church Basement Ladies’ this year that we’ve been able to make this one bigger.”
None of the production value would matter if the cast wasn’t equally impressive. It is and more (full disclosure, my daughter plays a dinner plate in this show … but I’d still be impressed if they fired her tomorrow). It’s tough to name the standouts without short-changing the rest, but Patrick Holt as Lefou, Gavan Pamer as Cogsworth and Jose Cangas as Lumiere are the standouts. Houston’s great, too. They’re all (truly) very, very good.
But it’s Best as Belle and Joel Abelson as Gaston who steal the show. Abelson’s performance makes you wish the brut survived at the end (spoiler, he doesn’t) … he’s that good. An Army veteran whose first Temple role was as a coach in “Footloose,” Abelson first tried out at the Temple “on a whim,” according to Taphorn, joining his friend and fellow veteran Cangas for an audition last year. Taphorn said she was instantly impressed.
“He’s just a great guy,” she said. “He’s great on stage, has great energy and is just so giving.”
She calls Best the “resident Temple cover girl,” having performed there four times now and receiving a Broadway World Award last year for “Best Actress in a Musical” for her role as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.” Best has performed in more than 35 states as a singer and actress and has starred in A&E’s “Psychic Tia” and performed in a national tour of “Seussical” the musical.
“Any show she wants to be in … ever … I would be happy to haver her,” Taphorn said. “She’s so gracious, and so wonderful and giving [to other castmembers] backstage. You don’t always get that from your leading person. She holds her own and is a pro throughout the whole process.”
On a given night, “Beauty and the Beast” features 35 castmembers. The youngest in the cast are divided into two groups — one performing Thursdays and Saturdays and the other on Fridays and Sundays.
“This cast has so much heart,” Taphorn said. “Everybody is so caring and there for each other, from age 7 to 60. That doesn’t always happen with a group this big. The only thing difficult about them is they’re still learning to maneuver backstage. It’s tight.”
Taphorn, who will spend her summer starring in “Mama Mia” in Oregon, said she hopes the success of this season carries over into the next 10 years, and not just through ticket sales. More community support — whether it’s raffles or fundraisers — will mean bigger productions and bigger summer progrms for teens and younger actors and actresses.
Next season’s slate will include more big shows, including “1776 the Musical,” “Ghost the Musical,” a radio play of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the “second helping” of “Church Basement Ladies,” “Boeing, Boeing,” “Big River” and the grand finale, “Grease.”
As for the final week of this season, a few tickets are still available for Thursday and Sunday matinees. To learn more, visit www.templeshows.com.