Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The second musical of North Shore Music Theatre’s 62nd season is Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” which first opened on Broadway on April 19, 1994. It closed on July 29, 2007 and ran 5,461 performances. Based on the 1991 animated Disney movie, the show tells the story of a spell cast on a Prince which transforms him into a ferocious beast. He must love and be loved before the last petal falls from the rose or he will be a beast forever.
Into his life comes the beautiful bookish Belle. They must learn to love each other after he makes her a prisoner in his desolate castle. Belle could melt the ice cap and indeed, even his heart. But will she see through his facade in time? Throw in many colorful characters including her eccentric inventor father, Maurice, the town strongman, Gaston, his crazy sidekick, Lefou and the numerous enchanted humans turned into household fixtures at the Beast’s castle and you have the ingredients for this marvelous musical masterpiece which combines comedy and pathos to create a superb show that audiences of all ages can enjoy. Director Michael Heiztman, musical director Rick Fox and choreographer Lisa Shriver mold their talented 25 member cast into these iconic characters and win them a standing ovation at the curtain call with their combined expertise.
Michael blocks this musical in the round wonderfully while Rick obtains a perfect blend of voices with his fabulous ten piece orchestra. Lisa’s many dances include can can, tango, waltzes and kick line to name a few. The leads of this show are Rose Hemingway as Belle and Steven Cerf as the Beast. She is outstanding in this role and is a stunning blonde with a superb soprano voice. Rose’s first song is “Belle” where you learn she loves to read books and the townspeople think she’s odd, “Is This Home?” where she laments being held prisoner in the castle and “A Change in Me” when she discovers that she and the Beast might have more in common with each other. Her strong acting ability gives her the backbone to stand up to the Beast and Gaston, where she is determined to control her life and is headstrong at times but finally realizes that the kind person hiding under the Beast’s gruff exterior. Steven’s gruff at first and learns to love again with the help of Belle. Steven’s solo number is “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of Act 1. The transformation from Beast into Prince is splendid and done in a blink of an eye. The dinner scene is very comical.
David Coffee plays the role of Belle’s absent minded inventor father excellently. Maurice gets lost in the woods, gets chased by wolves and gets captured by the Beast. Belle agrees to take her father’s place and when he returns to save her, realizes that she has fallen in love with the kinder and gentler Beast. David and Rose sing a tender ballad called “No Matter What” which shows they can depend on each other. Taylor Crousore is perfectly cast and does an excellent job as Gaston, the egomaniac strongman who wants to marry Belle whether she wants to or not. His constant flexing and preening are fabulous to behold. Taylor’s terrific voice is heard in “Me” where he tries to convince Belle how wonderful he is and to marry him and in “Gaston” flexes and shows off to three silly girls who laugh and faint at his antics. Gaston turns into the villain in Act 2 where he plots to have Maurice committed to an insane asylum in “Maison De Lunes” with Mark DiConzo as the evil doctor and then convinces the town to hunt the Beast down and kill him in “The Mob.” Taylor doesn’t even need fake muscles for this role. The biggest scene stealer is Andrew Kruep as Lefou who is Gaston’s sidekick. He is constantly beaten up, thrown around, smacked in the head and face. Andrew’s pratfalls are priceless as are his animated facial expressions which leave the audience in stitches. He displays his comic timing not only in his lines but in his song “Gaston” where he leads the chorus in a rousing dance.
The servants of the Beast are excellently portrayed, too. Christiane Noll plays the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Potts while clad in a teapot costume. Her gorgeous voice is heard in “Be Our Guest” and in the Oscar winning title number, “Beauty and the Beast” when she moves the audience to tears at trying to unite Belle with the Beast. Christiane brings the warmth the role needs and has one of the best voices in the show. Ben Choi-Harris returns to NSMT after a successful run as Winthrop in “The Music Man.” He plays Chip, Mrs. Potts young son splendidly, wrapping the audience around his little finger. Ben displays his voice in some of the chorus numbers in the show especially in “Human Again and once again tugs on your heartstrings when he appears as the little boy at the end of the show. Another comic performer is Benjamin Howes as Lumiere with his splendid French accent. His powerful voice soars in “Be Our Guest” and his wooing of Ryah Nixon as Babette. Their tango is breathtaking and “Be Our Guest” stops the show. Philip Taratula is a hoot as the worrywart Cogsworth. He is clad in a clock costume and provides many laughs with his mannerisms and nervous tics. The operatic voice of Joy Hermalyn is heard as Madame La Grande Bouche. The marvelous and gorgeous costumes are by Ryan Moller while the numerous sets are by Stephen Dobay. Kudos to everyone especially the dancers who makes this a show to be very proud of. One more feather in owner and producer Bill Hanney’s cap on another very successful musical extravaganza. Run do not walk to the boxoffice to get tickets for “Beauty and the Beast” before time runs out. Next year’s shows are “Mame”, “Peter Pan”, “Mama Mia”, “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Hairspray” as well as “A Christmas Carol” in December.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (11 to 30 July)
North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA
1(978)232-7200 or www.nsmt.org