BWW Review: Circle Players' Closes its 17-18 Season With BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Disney's Beauty and the Beast, The Broadway Musical, will always hold a special place in my heart no matter how it is produced or where it's playing: Some nine years ago, when I returned to the world of theater criticism with my first post for BroadwayWorld Nashville, it was a review of Beauty and The Beast at The Larry Keeton Theatre. The magic of the show was palpable, with notable production values and laudable performances that seemed a very personal welcome back for me after a brief sojourn spent away from the world of make believe.
During the intervening nine years, I've reviewed more than a few productions of the show that was inspired by - which actually had its beginnings in - the animated film from the fine folks at Disney, which seems to have started an industry of animated musical offerings turned into high-flying stage productions. In fact, when I first saw the film I marveled at its structure and story that seemed perfect for live performance onstage.
Now onstage at the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre as the concluding production of Circle Players' 2017-18 season, Disney's Beauty and the Beast is brought to life by an eager-to-please cast and crew, giving further proof to the universality of the story and the continued delight of audiences lucky enough to score tickets (Circle Players' production has been playing to near-capacity, often sold-out, audiences in its three-week run at the Looby).
Directed by critically acclaimed actress and singer Katharine Boettcher, ably assisted by her husband John Ray in the all-important job of music director, Circle's rendition of Beauty and the Beast is surprising for at least one reason, if not for many others - what took the venerable community theater company so long to mount its own production? It's been done by virtually every company in the region and so it seems only a logical choice for Circle Players.
Boettcher's best decision for her production is the casting of the lovely and oh-so-talented Kamryn Boyd (who stole the show as the ditsy Annelle in the company's recent staging of Steel Magnolias, directed by Melissa Williams) in the leading role of Belle. Boyd adds yet another laurel to her onstage career, playing the oft-misunderstood Belle with charm and grace, commanding the stage with her considerable presence and singing the character's repertoire with confidence and elan.
Boyd is paired with the always appealing Chris Cavin, whose voice lends its theatrics to the role of the Beast. Cavin's acting performance is hidden beneath the tremendous theatrical wizardry that allows the man to become a beastly romantic figure (credit goes to Deron Martel, who himself has played the Beast previously, for the impressive makeup design) and he delivers a thoroughly memorable "If I Can't Love Her" that lives long in the hearts and minds of audiences witnessing his performance.
Brian Jones is well-cast as the bombastic and arrogant Gaston, and the estimable performer makes the most of his time onstage with a well-modulated comic performance that ensures all eyes are riveted to him when he is bounding about the stage, wooing maidens and generally making an ass of himself, particularly during a riotous version of his eponymous musical number, the aptly named "Gaston."
Among the supporting cast, Julie Adams is the maternal Mrs. Potts, with young Jackson Tolbert making his Circle Players debut as Chip, with Jason Bell as the debonair Lumiere and Henry Harrington as the officious Cogsworth, the Beast's de facto major domo. Earl Landree is Belle's bumbling inventor father, with Stefanie Howerton is delightful as the opera diva turned wardrobe Madame le Grande Bouche and Jehiele De Jesus as the flirtatious Babette.
Jason Lewis provides the impressive set that is at one minute a small provincial French village and at another the Beast's cavernous castle, while Dave McGinnis' evocative lighting casts ominous shadows on the set to deliver a playing area for Boettcher's cast that serves its purpose effectively.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast, The Broadway Musical. Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Katharine Boetcher. Music direction by John Ray. Choreography by Katharine Boettcher and Ashley Streeter. Presented by Circle Players, at the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre, Nashville. Through June 17. For details, go to www.CirclePlayers.net. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).