Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Beauty and the Beast
If you're looking for some oohs and ahs and a feel-good journey, Lauderhill Performing Arts Center's vibrant and fantastical production of the Broadway musical Beauty and the Beast may be the golden ticket. With a stellar cast and strong execution of every element, this retelling of the Disney classic movie is enjoyable, entertaining and funny from beginning to end.
Set between a small cottage in the forest and a castle, Beauty and the Beast tells the ancient tale (originally conceived and published by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740 and then abridged and rewritten by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756) of Belle (Rebecca Rene Kelley), the unmarried and learned daughter of cooky inventor Maurice (Peter Librach), and their misadventures in the forest. While traveling to a fair to show off his new invention, Maurice gets turned around in the woods and is attacked by wolves. Scarcely managing to get away, he hides out in a shelter that proves to be even more ominous than the dancing predators outside.
Unfortunately, Maurice has trespassed on the property of an ill-tempered Beast (James Arthur Douglas). Once a handsome Young Prince (Joel Libed), his fate changes when he offends an Enchantress (fierce ballerina Bailee Cudmore) disguised as an old crone. To teach him a lesson about judging books by their covers, she temporarily transforms him into an unsightly creature and the members of his staff into household objects. His only recourse to break the spell is to learn to love and be loved in return, but he hasn't seen a woman in years. Now hardened by what appears to be a hopeless situation, the Beast sentences Maurice to imprisonment until courageous and soft-hearted Belle comes to take his place. Could Belle be the solution to his problems? The journey to the outcome is full of creativity and impressive artistry and is a spectacle worth seeing.
This Beauty and the Beast is a feast for the eyes, spirit and heart. From the opening scene to the closing curtain, there is always something happening onstage to stimulate the senses. Led by director and choreographer Amy Marie McCleary, the healthy, 26-member cast use the stage effectively as all of the carefully manicured movements unfold. Kelley and Douglas step into the roles of the beloved lead duo well, but it's the supporting players who stand out the most.
As Gaston, the ridiculously inflated womanizer and buffoon who wants to marry Belle, understudy to Jesse Luttrell and ensemble member Robert Ayala didn't miss a beat at the performance I attended. His confidence and skill was exemplary. Eytan Deray as Gaston's clingy sidekick LeFou is a hoot. Also noteworthy are all of the actors playing characters in the Beast's household.
Other accomplishments are made in sound, scenic design, and the presentations of the music. In previous LPAC productions, sound has been muffled and detracted from the show quality, but Robert Caldwell's sound design here is crisp, clear, and enhances the experience. Chris Peters' scenic design is so good that it's nearly a supporting actor in itself. His set pieces are magical and employ an expert use of lively colors to evoke a feeling of joy. Favorite numbers such as act one's "Be Our Guest" and act two's "Beauty and the Beast," both featuring Shannon Connolly as Mrs. Potts, are performed endearingly and memorably.
Beauty and the Beast has undergone many changes, revisions and translations over the centuries. What started as a folklore genre aimed at preparing young girls for arranged marriages has been adapted for the screen, stage, prose and television in recent years. This stage rendition is modeled after the 1994 Disney animated film with music by Alan Menken, book by Linda Woolverton, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Fun for all ages and genders, this production will transport you to the place of sweet dreams.
Beauty and the Beast runs through March 3, 2020 at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, 3800 NW 11th Place, Lauderhill FL. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $35-55. For tickets and information, visit lpacfl.com or call 954-777-2055.