Saturday, June 16, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

If I were forced to give a one-word review of the Davis Musical Theater Company’s new production, “Beauty and the Beast,” directed by Steve Isaacson, with musical direction by Erik Daniells, it would have to be: wow.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a huge show. It started life as a Disney animated cartoon and was the first of such films to cross over from the silver screen to the stage in 1991. Its phenomenal success spawned the likes of “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins,” and “Tarzan.”

With the financial backing of the Disney corporation, the stage show could dazzle with opulent costumes, intricate sets and wonderful special effects, something almost impossible for a small community theater on a small budget to reproduce. But DMTC does the best it can and can hold its head high for the end result.

You won’t find intricate sets, but you will find utilitarian sets (designed by Isaacson), and more set changes than I remember in a DCOC show.

Costume design by Denise Miles is outstanding. Belle’s final costume alone would not be out of place in a professional production. It’s gorgeous.

But what gives this show the “wow” factor is the energy, the stunning choreography by Ron Cisneros, who is wonderful at making non-dancers look like dancers, and the quality of the acting and singing.

Rachelle Jones is delicious as Belle, the spunky heroine, who, to save her father’s life, agrees to live in the castle of the Beast forever. Jones does not have a strong voice, but a sweet, clear, genuine voice and she created a real character, not a caricature. It was a captivating performance.

Gil Sebastian is perfect as Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, the town inventor who gets lost in the woods and ends up in the dungeon of the Beast’s castle.

Tevye Ditter made an impressive Beast, a prince under the spell of an enchantress (Kristen Meyers, who appears later as Babette), doomed to live inside a hideous body unless he can find a woman to love him for who he is, not for how he looks. His growing love for Belle is unmistakable to the audience, less so, at first, to the Beast. Ditter has a powerful voice and his “If I can’t love her,” which ends Act 1, was the high point of the evening.

Gaston is the town hunk, whose self-esteem needs no bolstering. In his mind, he’s gorgeous and he knows it and has set his eye on the most beautiful girl in town, Belle, to be his wife, whether she wants to be or not. JR Humbert does a wonderful job at being the egotist who can’t believe that there could possibly be a woman who would not swoon at his advances.

Fifteen year old Chris Peterson is very funny as Gaston’s foil, LaFou, who gets tossed around so much one wonders if Peterson is going to end the run black and blue.

The bewitched prince’s house staff also comes under the curse of the Beast, and are gradually turning into furniture and other household objects. As the candelabra, Lumiere, Jon Jackson provides lots of fun. Lumiere gets all the best lines (“You’ve cut me to the wick...”) and Jackson makes the most of them.

Adam Sartain is Cogsworth, the major domo who is slowly becoming a clock and who plays off of Lumiere beautifully.

The ever-wonderful Lenore Sebastian is Mrs. Potts, the round little tea kettle, who pushes her son “Chip” (Sara Pinto) around in a tea cart and who sings the beautiful title song as the Beast and Belle’s romance begins to blossom.

Kristen Meyers is adorable as Babette, the feather duster in a feathered dress Ginger Rogers would have loved.

Carolyn Gregory is Madame de la Grande Bouche, the opera star who is now becoming a chest of drawers.

The trio of Silly Girls (Shannon Kendall, Carolyn Self, and Wendy Young), all vying for the love of Gaston, deserve special mention for their valiant attempt at a high-kicking can-can.

The 10 piece orchestra under the direction of Erik Daniells provides better than average accompaniment.

This is a huge cast for DMTC – I count 36 actors involved. While it moves fairly quickly, the pace may be a bit slow for younger children (two youngsters near me were quite squirmy), but children 8 and up (especially little girls) should love it.

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