BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Omaha Community Playhouse Has Beauty Abounding
It must be hard. How do you take a story that is so well known that the audience knows every movement that comes next and make it interesting enough to keep their attention for nearly three hours? You start with great vocals, beautiful sets, and incredible costumes. Toss in a fine orchestra and some dazzling lights. Top it off with unexpected props that light up or shoot out. Reverberate the sound throughout the theater. Send the characters down the aisles. Stir it up and there's your recipe for another sold out run at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at the OCP has beauty abounding. The costumes almost steal the stage. There are rich fabrics and ornate trims, along with fantastical outfitting of the animate turned inanimate. A candelabrum looks both human and identifiable as a fancy holder for candles. A wardrobe flings open her drawers with a flourish. An old woman transforms into a golden lady with a surprise. A couple of the minor costumes I struggled with identifying, but even those were fun to speculate on!
The magic of this production is in the special effects and set (and when are Jim Othuse's sets NOT magical?) The little town is straight out of the fairy tale. Maurice's invented machine moves. The mirror and the rose light up. The Prince becomes the Beast-and then the Prince-under cover of fog. The ample use of that fog machine may be a bit much for those sitting in the front of the house. But it is cool for setting the mystery and darkness of the woods with the cleverly dressed and choreographed wolves.
Leading lady Leanne Hill Carlson plays a lovely, but more mature and cool Belle. She is not easily excited or intimidated by either the bullying Gaston (Ryan Pivonka) or the not-too-scary Beast (Tim Vallier). Her voice is pure and strong, a delight to hear, eliciting enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Ryan Pivonka is a no brainer choice for Gaston. He is burly enough to show off his biceps and has the muscled chops to belt out "Gaston."
Tim Vallier is an interesting choice for the Beast. He is not intimidating. He retains his prince-like demeanor more than beast-like behavior. He looks sleek and sophisticated rather than bulky. But it works for me, and when he sings "If I Can't Love Her," he brings down the house. His voice is chillingly deep, resonant, powerful, and melodious. You can hear the "wows!" and "who is that?" from the people in the audience. It was my high point in the show for sure.
Then there's funny. Some people are just naturally funny. They don't even have to try. There are two of them in this show: Steve Krambeck as Lumiere and Joey Galda as the Wardrobe also known as Madame De La Grande Bouche. Their comedic timing is an innate part of their personalities and they never miss. Krambeck also sings beautifully in "Be Our Guest," one of the most well received showstoppers of the show.
Dawn Buller-Kirke as Mrs. Potts most closely represents the Angela Lansbury interpretation of Disney's Mrs. Potts. She is spot on both vocally and performance wise with a dash of regal 'Downton Abbey' nobility.
The ensemble is a bit unequal. As in all community theater, some actors upstage the others simply because they are more comfortable in the limelight. The audience, however, loves to see family and friends on stage and they are fully appreciative.
During preview night the young audience perched on the edges of their booster seats through most of the first 90 minute half until nature had them finding their way down the aisles to the restrooms. The show may be a little long for the youngest, but they will leave for home humming the tunes and dreaming of yellow ballroom gowns and roses and princes.
Photo Credit: Colin Conces