Beauty and the Beast is a Little Bit of Both

Beauty and the Beast is an iconic Disney classic. The animated movie was the second in Disney’s resurgence in the animated feature market following the box office hit The Little Mermaid. This is a much loved story that millions of kids and kids at heart have enjoyed the “new” Disney classic since it was released in 1991. And this year saw a live action release that did fairly well at the box office.

The White Theatre and Theater in the Park did a lot of promotions. And they paid off. I saw many little princesses dressed in gowns in the sold out audience. This production played for three weeks at the White Theatre and opens tonight at Theater in the Park in Shawnee. The weather looks good for the next weekend as the temperature dropped and the rain moved out.

I won’t go into much detail about the story because unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know it. This production is a bit hit and miss. The opening set looks appropriately worn down, a sight of wonder that has now turned ugly with age. As the prologue about the prince who spurned the old woman and was cursed is completed, the set transforms nicely into the thriving village with the iconic number Belle. Director Steve Eubanks moves the actors around in this opening scene well and they do a good job of filling the stage and keeping the movement going.

Paris Naster as Belle sounds lovely and creates the proper spirited persona of the girl who doesn’t fit into the provincial life of this small hamlet. Her father Maurice, (Curt Knapp), is an eccentric inventor off to sell his new invention. Knapp falls short vocally and doesn’t quite convey the quirkiness of the character. Lost in the woods and chased by wolves, creatively depicted as red-eyed dancers by Choreographer Mindy Moritz, Maurice comes across the cursed castle filled with the usual suspects.

Lumiere (Dalton Holmolka), Babette (Madeline Clem) and Madam (Whitney Armstrong) stand out with strong characters and beautiful voices. The fire between Lumiere and Babette is palpable and leaves you smiling. Cogsworth (Austin Shively) does a good job overall, but I would have liked to have seen a greater commitment to being the rigid straight-man. Mrs. Potts (Wendy Musick) does justice to the title song and is appropriately motherly to young Chip (Finnegan Jones). Unfortunately we have a difficult time hearing and understanding Jones as he is wheeled around on his tea cart. Hopefully that will be improved at the park.

Another stand out performance was the Footstool. Sadly he was uncredited and didn’t even get a curtain call. As some may know, the prince’s dog, Sultan, was turned into an footstool from the curse and his physicality was simply amazing. He was all over the place and really livened up the stage.

Meanwhile, back at the village Gaston (Matt Messing) is trying to convince Belle to marry him. He’s beautiful, she’s beautiful so why not? Messing really looks the part of the buff and brash showman, but he lacks the voice and his songs lose impact. He is also short on the swagger and bravado that is intrinsic with Gaston. The Silly Girls (Lauren Chandler, Amanda Duluny and Katie Hulla) are delightfully infatuated with Gaston. They just ooze with over the top awe that I found enchanting. They never faltered and their poses were perfection. Gaston’s sidekick Lafou (Colin Rohach) is also in awe of Gaston. Rohach has a nice voice and handles the physical comedy required, but at times it seemed forced as he takes punches and rolls around.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Beast played by Scott Fagan. Fagan embodied the Beast with a strong speaking voice, but his singing voice was spectacular. He brought down the house with If I Can’t Love Her with his powerful and rich baritone voice. The song built well and was an amazing end to the first act. I would have liked to have seen more range to his character . He didn’t strike the fear with his anger that is so important, and I didn’t see the growth, which can be complicated, as he fell in love for the first time.

It’s a smaller cast for such a grand musical. With only 21 people, there is a lot of doubling up. The ensemble under the musical direction of Pamela Williamson sounds very good. Overall the doubling worked but Be Our Guest, sung wonderfully by Homolka, seemed a bit empty on the stage until everyone gathered for the finale. The Mob Song (Kill the Beast) also lacked slightly as the battle in the castle took place, but Eubanks and Moritz used the cast they had well.

The set, designed by Lisa Haldeman, worked well. It flowed and the set changes were pretty quick. Eubanks made the decision to start scenes even as smaller wing pieces were being moved into place and I applaud that decision. It kept the action going and was well choreographed . The lighting design by Jayson Chandley really added the detail to set the proper mood while also helping transition the various scenes.

Just like the title, this production is a bit Beauty and a bit Beast. But overall it hits all the marks and is sure to entertain those fans, young and old. Beauty and the Beast plays at Theater in the Park Wednesday through Sunday evenings at 8:30pm.  Go to https://theatreinthepark.org/ for more info.

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