Sunday, December 11, 2005

Beauty and the Beast (Beck Center)

‘Beauty And The Beast’ Is A Beaut At Beck!

‘DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,’ which is now on stage at Beck Center, tells a "tale as old as time." It was originally conceived in 1740 as a dark and scary tale. In 1992 Disney released a lighter version of the story which became the first animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Picture. In 1994 Disney transformed the script into an award winning Broadway musical.

Beck is one of the first non-Broadway or touring companies to present the show. What is impressive about Beck’s getting the rights is that the show is still running on Broadway. This is yet another tribute to what’s been going on in Lakewood. The theatre, under the wise guidance of Scott Spence, has recently staged such winning productions as ‘URINETOWN,’ ‘MISS SAIGON,’ ‘AIDA’ and ‘THE FIX’ establishing itself as one of THE places to see musicals in the Cleveland area.

Their production of ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ under the able direction of Fred Sternfeld, and the marvelous choreography of Martin Cespedes, is yet another winner.

‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ concerns a prince who, because he has no love in his heart, is transformed into a beast by an enchantress. To break the spell, the Beast must learn to love another and earn her love in return. If not, he will be doomed to remain a beast for all time.

Into the Beast’s life comes Belle, a beautiful young woman who lives with her eccentric father in a small town near the Beast’s castle. Belle longs for a life of adventure like those she reads of in books. Her father gets lost in the woods and wanders into the Beast’s castle, where he is imprisoned. Upon finding her father in the Beast's clutches, Belle offers herself as a captive in return for her father’s release. can guess the rest. Yes, the Beast learns kindness and love, it is reciprocated by Belle, and we all go out of the theatre singing the likes of “If I Can’t Love Her,” “A Change in Me,” “Be Our Guest,” and the title song, “Beauty and the Beast.”

Beck’s production is enchanting. Everything from the sets, to the music, to the singing, to the dancing, to the cast, works well.

Natalie Green is glorious as Belle. She is beautiful, lights up the stage with her smile, sings like an angel and dances with ease. Her version of “A Change in Me” was enchanting. She is a star in every sense of the word.

Dan Folino, who has done some marvelous work in the area, has a full and powerful voice and gives a vulnerable texture to the role of the Beast that adds much to the characterization. His “If I Can’t Love her” was captivating. He and Green make the perfect fairy tale prince and princess. It is wonderful to see Folino, who has not been seen on the stage lately, appear where he should be--front and center! I can only hope that he will excite us with return performances.

Though he doesn’t have the physical presence or the natural swagger ideal for the role of the pompous Gaston, Josh Noble has a nice singing voice and a perfect set of pearly white teeth and creates an acceptable characterization.

Zac Hudak (Lefou) makes for the perfect straight man and punching bag for Gaston. If Hudak gets through the run of the show without a few broken bones it will be a marvel.

Doug Collier as Cogsworth (the clock), and Larry Nehring, who gives a Danny Kaye quality to Lumiere are both delightful, as is Tracee Patterson as Madame de la Grande Bouche (the dresser) and Kristin Netzband (Babette, the feather duster), and Miles Sternfeld (Chip, the tea cup). Aimee Collier has a fine voice. Her rendition of “Beauty and Beast” was charming. Unfortunately, she is missing the matronly touch needed for Mrs. Potts.

Martin Cespedes is a master of choreography. It is amazing what he can do with a group of performers who, in general, are not dancers. “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” were absolute show stoppers!

Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra is excellent, remembering the rule that the orchestra in a musical plays backup to the singers, not giving a concert. Too bad other conductors at local theatres don’t follow Goodpaster’s lead.

Ben Needham’s scenic design is excellent. It is amazing how he used every inch of space on the small stage to allow for ease of movement.

Director Fred Sternfeld again proves that he is a master at placing large casts on stage and making them look good. He pays special attention to ensure that his chorus and townspeople are involved in the production and not just standing around as is often seen on local stages. His ability to invent “shtick” comes through loud and clear in this production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” is a delightful production. It is the best holiday present that the theatre could give its audience.

Side note: Beck Center would be wise not to sell bagged candy and bottles of soda before the show and at intermission. Though it is a fund raiser, the amount of ripping open bags of goodies and bottles rolling down the floor of the auditorium during the production is distracting for the audience. In addition, since ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ is not a children’s show, the box office would have been wise to inform ticket buyers that very young children might not have the attention span to sit through the production. No one expects total silence, but the yelling and talking by little ones during the show was very disturbing.