By Richard Pacheco
“Beauty and the Beast”, now playing at Theatre by the Sea, is a musical extravaganza, a treat for eyes and ears, and a sheer delight for all ages. This spectacular production is marked by stunning sets, glorious costumes and propelled by an extremely talented and flashy cast. The choreography is standout too – vibrant, daring and dazzling.
The story is well known, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton. Adapted from Walt Disney Pictures’ Academy Award-winning 1991 animated musical film of the same name – which was based on the classic French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. “Beauty and the Beast” tells the story of a cold-hearted prince who has been magically transformed into an unsightly creature as punishment for his selfish ways. To revert into his true human form, the Beast must first earn the love of a bright, beautiful young woman whom he has imprisoned in his enchanted castle before it is too late.
This show is sheer delight, a real spectacular event that you see. The small stage nearly burst with the rampant spectacle that ensues. Director Bob Richard shows a sure and certain hand, which is always totally in control and riveting. The two hours and 40 minutes seems to soar by with one delight after another. Diane Laurenson (who happens to be the director’s wife) does the choreography and is so rich and phenomenal in all its aspects. It is all faithful to the film as much as you can be onstage.
Lauren Weinberg is Belle, the beauty in this tale. She has a vivacious stage presence that sparkles throughout. Her voice is a sheer delightful and has many opportunities to shine which she does. Her duet with Gaston, “Me” is a delight as is her reprise of “Belle” and with “A Change in Me.”
Phillip Bryan is just as wdonerful as the lumbering, nasty prince transformed into a beast. His voice is rich and robust a vivid baritone that haunts and lingers in the mind. He shines with “How Long Must This Go On” and wondrous and magical fog filled “If I Can’t Love Her” which is simply splendid.
Of course there is more vivid support coming from the bully with braggadocio, Gaston played to perfection by Wayne Hu. He captures the smug. self satisfied pomp of the character with flair and energy. This opera singer has a big voice and stage presence particularly as he uses his diminutive sidekick, Lefou played with flair and finesse by the talented Josh Walker.
The castle has it share of delights too with Lumiere, played by Josh Houghton with poise and skill and terrific comic timing. Or Mrs. Potts played by Ellen Peterson with presence and robust energy. Jeffrey Johnson is winning as Cogsworth, complete with the pendulum in his chest and his comic flamboyance. Belle’s father, the eccentric Maurice, seems a little less developed by Thom Warren.
There are other fine touches throughout, like Reid Taylor as Chip and the ensemble which is a delight with their dancing and singing.
The orchestra led by led by Jesse Warkentin, was terrific, playing with impeccable energy and finesse. The sets and scenic design by Kyle Dixon is phenomenal, rich in its complexity and varied riches. The same can be said of the costumes by Miguel Angel Huidor and special touches with wigs by Michael Dates and prestehtics designs for the beast by Dena Oliveiri.
This is a treat from beginning to end no mater your age. See it! You won’t regret it.
“Beauty and the Beast” runs through Aug. 12 at Theatre By The Sea, 364 Cards Pond Rd., Matunuck. Tickets are $46-$72. Call (401) 782-8587, or visit http://www.theatrebythesea.com/