BWW Review: Virginia Repertory Theatre's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is Enchanting Fun for the Whole Family
From puppetry and stage magic to big dance numbers and notable performances, Virginia Repertory Theatre's production of Beauty and the Beast has something for everyone. Billed as children's theatre, the company puts forth a noble effort to mount a show with many accouterments of a mainstage production.
Directed and choreographed by Robin Arthur, this adaptation adds glitz and gravity to the "tale as old as time." Her choreography in big ensemble numbers is well executed given the confines of the usually spacious November Theatre stage. This is most evident in the dance break of "Be Our Guest" and the mug-clinking "Gaston." The wolf chase is particularly exciting to watch. Her unflinching decision to use puppetry during the opening scene pays off, especially with younger audiences.
Under the capable musical direction of Jason Marks, the large ensemble tackles the sometimes-difficult harmonies of Alan Menken's music. While the orchestrated tracks are fulfilling, the absence of a live orchestra is noticeable and sometimes makes for untimely pauses.
Joel Sherry's well-crafted and sprawling set is constantly on the move, flying in and rolling out. The two-level design is very effective, and his gothic-styled false proscenium is ornate. For all the detail in the construction of the set, there is surprisingly little attention to the dressing of the set. Lynne Hartman's lighting design is complemented by projections to great effect. Terry Snyder's costumes are functional, but lack the sparkle demanded of a Disney production.
As Gaston, seasoned actor Landon Nagel possesses a blend of arrogance and villainy, but doesn't quite muster the matching vocal performance. Caleb Wade brings great physical comedy and pratfalls aplenty as Gaston's buffoonish sidekick Lefou. Richard Koch is sentimental as Belle's inventor father Maurice.
Chauncey Trask's Belle is the perfect balance of sweet and rebellious, and both ends of the emotional spectrum are on full display during the wistful "Home." As Beast, Matt Polson's strengths play more to the delicate and excitable mannerisms than the menacing. Though his bright tenor vocals are powerful, they don't quite dig deep enough for the role's most demanding number, "If I Can't Love Her." His final transformation is absolutely magical.
Happy Mahaney and Georgia Rogers Farmer are enjoyably entertaining as Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts, but it's Timothy Fitz-Gerald who puts on a musical theatre master class as the debonair and flamboyant Lumiere-with a credible French accent to boot. While his "Be Our Guest" is a powerful showstopper, it is in the auspicious "Human Again" where his vocals really shine.
A hardworking and talented cast, combined with fun choreography, familiar music and some visual treats, makes BEAUTY AND THE BEAST a production that's fun for the whole family. The show runs through May 14 at the November Theatre.