Actors' Playhouse, at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables, has a long-standing reputation as the top musical producer in South Florida. Now in their 10th season, they are one of the first regional theatres to present the Disney musical Beauty and the Beast. The show is scheduled to run through January 2, 2005 at their theatre in Coral Gables. Artistic Director David Arisco has declared it "the perfect show for the holiday season."
Based on the 1991 Academy Award-winning animated feature film, Disney's Beauty and the Beast was nominated for nine TonyŽ Awards, including Best Musical, when it opened on Broadway in 1994. It is now the sixth longest-running show in Broadway history. With music by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, the stage version has memorable new songs added to the animated version.
The story is set in a provincial small town in France and features a beautiful and bright young heroine, her handsome and loutish suitor, a cursed young prince and an enchanted castle. The morals of the story are: true beauty is more than skin deep, and love has a redemptive power. A romantic fairy tale fantasy for people of all ages, this is a show designed to be filled with special effects and illusions as well as dazzling production numbers and costuming.
The list of cast and crew for this production reads like a Who's Who of South Florida Carbonell Award winners and nominees. The music, with direction by Eric Alsford, is well played. It is reassuring to see Actors' Playhouse using live musicians as more theatres move toward using click tracks. However, the show is hindered by the theatre's sound system. Its lack of depth and clarity reduces almost everything to the range of mezzo piano to mezzo forte. The sound being produced on stage is not the sound coming through the speakers in the house.
Our Belle, Gwen Hollander, is a vocal dead ringer for the original voice of Belle, Paige O'Hara. Hollander does a particularly lovely job with the song "Home." Tally Sessions as The Beast has one of the finest singing voices in South Florida. His best moment is an impassioned "If I Can't Love Her." This is undoubtedly the most well written song added for the stage version. I was a bit disappointed by Gaston, (through no fault of the actor, Robert Rokicki). His attitude is right, but as he is neither the tallest nor the broadest male in the cast, he should been costumed and/or padded to look it, and the role sounds too low for him. As Gaston's sidekick LeFou, David Perez-Ribada is wonderfully buffoonish, handling well all of the physical comedy of the role. The trio of Mrs. Potts (Lourelene Snedeker), Lumiere (Bill Perlach) and Cogsworth (a charming Terrell Hardcastle) work together like a well oiled machine. Some ensemble performances stand out as well, like the comic "Three Silly Girls" with Chrissi Ardito, Heather Jane Rolff, and Angela Roman, and the amazing gymnastic performance by John Culbertson as The Doormat.
Special effects, choreography, and costumes for the show deserve their own bow, and there is a lot for them to handle. A few of the costumes and wigs need a bit of tweaking, and some of the cast members look a tad wary in their large and fanciful costumes in the production numbers.
The acting concern in this sort of show is the level at which each actor is playing his or her character. We all have the animated version of Beauty and the Beast planted firmly in our heads. Some actors in this production are playing the stage version more true to heart, while others are focused only on the larger than life. Neither is wrong, but there needs to be cast agreement on style for this show to be all that it should be. Fortunately, the spectacle and fantasy are in place, and who could not love "Human Again" and "Be Our Guest"?
Beauty and the Beast is running at the Actors' Playhouse until January 2nd. The theatre is located at 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, FL. Running concurrently, in their upstairs space, is the comedy Shear Madness. Actors' Playhouse is a professional regional theatre hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The theatre produces musicals, comedies and children's theatre productions year round, and offers a full range of classes for all experience levels. Information and tickets may be obtained by contacting the theater at their box office at (305) 444-9293, or on line at www.actorsplayhouse.org.
Beauty and the Beast
Townspeople / Enchanted Objects:
* Denotes Member of Actor's Equity
-- Kevin Johnson