Steel River Playhouse closes its 10th anniversary with the classic Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. For those of you unfamiliar with the musical, beautifully scored by Disney royalty, Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Beauty and the Beast tells the tale of a selfish prince transformed into a beast by a magical enchantress who puts a spell on his castle and all those who inhabit it. As in a lot of Disney stories, the spell can only be broken by the learning of true love. Enter Belle. The story unfolds into a world of enchantment and wonder, as well as strife and despair. How will this tale as old as time end? No spoiler alerts here.
As my guest and I entered the playhouse on opening night of this production, we couldn’t help but comment on the facility itself. The lobby area was very spacious, adorned with artwork, a small café area, and very well stocked snack bar, complete with libations for those interested. The black box theatre had plentiful (and comfortable) stadium seating and it looked as if there was not a bad seat in the house.
As we took our seats among all the little girls adorned in their gold Belle dresses, we couldn’t wait to be entertained by a talented cast and we were not disappointed. The talent in this production is to be applauded. The Beast (Sebastian Antonio) was very enjoyable with his understanding of the transition of harsh (and sometimes comedic) monster to caring human being. His performance of “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of Act One is worth the price of admission alone showcasing his strong baritone voice. The heroine of the show, Belle (Talia Speak) presented the character in a soft and honest way while lending her beautiful melodic singing skills to some of the show’s newer songs. In the story, Belle is pursued by the egotistical Gaston (Adam Dienner). Mr. Dienner was very believable in the part commanding the stage for each of his scenes. His hilarious and very well performed version of the song, “Me” was one of the highlights of the night. Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou (Joseph Billetta) lent his giant smile and playful whimsy to the part. The camaraderie between the two was very entertaining and caused much laughter from the audience. Belle’s oddball father, Maurice (John Casertano) was a complete joy to watch onstage. His interaction with Belle especially during “A Change in Me” displayed everything I wanted this father-figure to be.
My favorite character of the show was Lumiere (Tell Williams) who played the part with flair and strong comedic timing. Kudos to Williams for understanding the character and never losing his impressive French accent. His counterpart, Cogsworth (David Williams) made the stodgy old clock his own, bringing humor and strong acting skills to the part. The interactions between the two brought light to the dimly lit stage. These two are complimented by the fine talents of their fellow castlemates Mrs. Potts (Cara Frisina), Babette (Emily-Grace Murray), Madame de la Grande Bouche (Ruthie Holland), and Chip (shared by Kai Flowers and Brady Roland).
The cast was completed by a very strong ensemble full of silly girls and town villagers who lent their vocal and dance talents to this tale. They each developed characters of their own and allowed themselves to shine in their own ways. Under the direction of Barbara Newberry, the large orchestra complimented the cast with their masterful undertaking of this complex score.
While my guest and I loved the talent in this show, we were forewarned via their press release that this show would be “different.” It certainly was. While I always find this choice risky, I admire Steel River for taking the chance as this deviation can either be very imaginative or fall a tiny bit short. Director, Rebecca May Flowers, attempts to take this classic tale and put a modern-day spin on it. Unfortunately, this reviewer believes her concept missed the mark to the point where the story line of enchantment and magic was almost non-existent. In addition, she seemed to get lost in her own idea as to where and when this story is set as magnified with the use of costuming. It was hard to distinguish exactly when this story occurred as the audience was quickly introduced to a variety of costumed characters spanning multiple eras in history. The confusion for us lied in the portrayal of 1950s greasers (Gaston and LaFou), 1960s girl group members (silly girls), 1950s housewives (some villagers) intertwined with other cast members dressed in period and traditional costuming normally seen in this musical. As the castle scenes appeared, I was hoping this would be resolved. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The enchanted objects in the castle, while extremely talented, barely came off as enchanted. In fact, the guest who accompanied me (who has never seen the show or movie before) spent the majority of the time asking me who each character was and how the spell affected them as they were too ambiguous. The biggest display of this was in the most popular number of the show, “Be Our Guest”, where the stage is normally filled with singing and dancing kitchen items as suggested by the lyrics of the song. In this production, there was not one plate, utensil, cheese grater, etc. Instead the stage was filled with girls in black leotards and tights with simple gold lamé skirts and boys in gold vests, resembling more of human wait staff then enchanted objects.
If you are expecting to see the classic “Disney magic” in this production, this may not be the production for you. However, if you are looking for a new version that will allow you to use your imagination while being entertained by a talented cast, then this is one to see.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast continues its run at the Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown, PA through June 9th. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.steelriver-playhouse.org.
Remaining show dates:
- Friday, May 31- 8PM
- Saturday, June 1-2PM*
- Saturday, June 1-8PM
- Sunday, June 2-2PM
- Thursday, June 6-8PM
- Friday, June 7-8PM
- Saturday, June 8- 2PM
- Saturday, June 8-8PM
- Sunday, June 9-2pm
*Special “Tea Time with Mrs. Potts” event before this performance. Visit Steel River Playhouse’s website for more information.