BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Sharon Playhouse
I witnessed the best stage effects I have ever seen anywhere (including Broadway), when on Saturday, July 20, I had the pleasure of seeing BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at the Sharon Playhouse, in Sharon, CT! While this story is likely familiar to most people, the Sharon Playhouse grips the audience right from the start, not merely by elevating the Enchantress into the air, but by having the Young Prince transformed into the Beast, on stage, in front of the whole audience, in a manner of seconds, with effective use of strobe lights, a successful undertaking of a greater magnitude than what people can expect in a typical magic show, much less a musical! Without providing any spoilers, for those of you familiar with how the story ends, that happens on stage too, right before our eyes, with effective use of strobe lights. Lighting Designer Jamie Roderick deserves a lot of credit for working what appears like magic, on the stage. Every show I have seen at Sharon Playhouse has been wonderful, but this is the best!
The set is breathtaking, designed by Christopher and Justin Swador, with many moveable parts depicting the town, in front of a curtain that contains the forest on it, and when opened reveals the Beast's castle behind it, with more than just one level from which entrances and exits are made. Set changes are extremely efficient, like clockwork.
Patrick Hoagland leads the talented six piece live orchestra that enhances the production, while, Jeremy Oleska provides the sound design, including perfectly timed sound effects.
Cheryl Swift provides the amazing choreography that is particularly showcased during my favorite musical number from this show, "Be Our Guest."
Another stand-out effect is the optical illusion regarding the character Chip, the tea cup, wonderfully portrayed by RJ Vercellone. Chip's face is shown peeking through a cup that is affixed upon a cart that appears transparent on the bottom, essentially making Chip appear like a mere living decapitated head that talks and is shown through a tea cup. Where was RJ Vercellone from the neck down during these scenes? I have theories, but I did not figure it out to any degree of confidence that I would be willing to bet on. If you can conclusively figure this optical illusion out when you come to this amazing show, please explain it to me!
Right from the opening musical number, "Belle," the audience can see that this is an incredibly talented cast who love performing their roles and radiate positive energy from the stage, enthusiasm and energy that carry on through the entire production from the cast through the audience.
Actress Becky Whitcomb is sensational in the starring role of Belle. She sells every line and every note with feeling and emotion. Her realistic reactions to the words and actions of the other characters help convey Belle's personality, making her a thoroughly likeable central protagonist. Becky Whitcomb's strong stage presence and tight stage chemistry with the multiple cast members with whom she sings duets helps bring total authenticity to this character.
Trevor Martin is wonderful as the Beast. He helps the audience feel the emotions of someone who struggles with his own temper, insecurity about his appearance, and regret for his own actions, coupled with a strong desire for genuine repentance. Trevor Martin has a commanding stage presence which at the same time conveys a likeability for this character whose ability to overcome his own flaws lies at the heart of this story.
Daniel Patrick Smith is perfect in the role of Gaston, the arrogant scheming antagonist who has an unrequited crush on Belle. His singing on the misogynistic song, "Me," further sells the sleaziness of this character, as does his implication to three of his groupies that he is willing to cheat on Belle, with them, after he (according to his own wishes) marries Belle.
Delaney Bailey, Kelly Follette, and Jillian Wessel are hilarious in their roles as Gaston's three groupies, also known as "Silly Girls." Gaston chronically leads them on, even though his intentions are towards Belle. The groupies reflect the mindset of people who conform to whatever they are told is the "in," way to think, act, and feel. This provides a sharp juxtaposition to Belle who is a free and original thinker, true to herself, and uncompromising in her principles and desires, regardless of how any segment of society tells her to be.
Angel Hernandez steals the show in his strong performance of LeFou who is Gaston's sidekick who at times comes across as Gaston's toadie, but other times as a person trying to keep Gaston in check. Angel Hernandez's comedic timing, delivery, and stage chemistry with Daniel Patrick Smith all powerfully enhance every scene in which LeFou appears.
Michael Britt is convincing as Maurice, Belle's loving father who sings a moving duet with Belle called "No Matter What."
There is a scene in which Maurice is in the forest, being surrounded by wolves, and another scene in which the same thing happens to Belle. While Trevor Martin and Becky Whitcomb both genuinely convey the emotions of fear and distress in these respective scenes, the actors portraying the wolves also deserve a lot of credit for making realistic sharp movements that are remarkably believable enough to even make the audience legitimately fear for Maurice and Belle, respectively, especially since the stellar acting all around has already drawn us deeply into the story.
Jesse Swimm and Michael Kevin Baldwin are a fantastic duo as Lumiere and Cogsworth, respectively. They play off each other flawlessly, with spot on voices and mannerisms. They provide strong leadership among the enchanted creatures in the castle. Leigh Martha Klinger and Johanne Borge Kesten provide further comedic and convincing energy to the show in their roles of Babette and Madame De La Grande Bouche, respectively. Debbie Prutsman is wonderful as Mrs. Potts, strongly performing the show's signature musical number, "Beauty and the Beast." The cast members portraying the enchanted creatures smoothly combine their musical talents with those of the talented ensemble in a hopeful song called "Human Again."
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST sends the positive message of showing romantic love through actions and understanding that true love requires spending time together, getting to know the other person's personality and desires, and genuinely striving to meet that person's needs, even when that requires personal sacrifice. The Beast and Gaston are both aware of Belle's strong connection with her father, Maurice, yet use that knowledge in polar opposite manners. The Beast sacrifices his own time with Belle and a chance to break the spell over himself, in order to grant Belle the desire of her heart, while Gaston uses Belle's feelings against her, and against her father, in a manipulative attempt to gain what he wants from Belle, regardless of what Belle wants or how Belle feels. It presents a striking contrast between love and selfishness, providing an excellent example to young men in how to be loving, while showing young ladies what they should expect from any man worthy of their time.
This phenomenal production features songs written by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The book is written by Linda Woolverton. Alan M-L Wager brings out the best in this strong cast, as the Director.
I highly recommend BEAUTY AND THE BEAST which is scheduled to continue to run at the Sharon Playhouse, in Sharon, CT, through August 4, 2019. For times and tickets please click on Be Our Guest.