A classic fairy tale comes to life. A vain and cold hearted prince is transformed into a hideous beast by an enchantress when he fails to show her hospitality. The only way to break the curse is for him to finally love and be loved in return before the enchantress’ rose sheds its last petal. When circumstances bring the lovely Belle to the castle of the Beast, will the curse finally be brought to an end or is the afflicted prince doomed to his fearsome shape for all time? Find out in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, closing the season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
I’m going to make a confession. . .I have never seen any version of Beauty and the Beast nor have I ever read the fairy tale. I share that confession with you because I want you to understand that I walked into this show with a completely unbiased pair of eyes and no influences to alter my expectations. Having said that, I now need to tell you that this was an entrancing and beautiful production, one worthy to be viewed by every man, woman, and child in this city.
Kimberly Faith Hickman works an incredible bit of magic with her direction. Not only did she lead her actors to a string of dynamite performances, but she also flawlessly paced the show. So smooth was its running that I was honestly taken aback when it came to an end for it only felt like a few minutes had passed. Her staging is pluperfect and makes use of the entire theatre and the scene changes were satin slick.
From a technical standpoint this was, bar none, the finest show I have ever seen. The costumes of Georgiann Regan, Travis Halsey, and Amanda Fehlner are so elegant and eye catching from Belle’s simple blue dress to her opulent yellow gown to the rich oddity of the servants’ garments (they are humans transforming into household objects) to the make-up of the Beast.
Jim Othuse continues to pull from his neverending bag of tricks with his sets, lights, and special effects for this show. You will travel from a simple, homey village to a dark and foreboding forest to a sprawling, cavernous castle. John Gibilisco’s sounds help animate every moment and Darin Kuehler’s properties give life to the audience’s imaginations.
Jim Boggess and his orchestra never miss a note of the epic score and Michelle Garrity nails the choreography with lavish dance numbers and I must say that “Be Our Guest” is the single best bit of dancing I have seen in nearly 21 years of theatre.
And the acting? Well, where does one begin? Such a universally marvelous cast makes it very, very difficult for me to center on select performances. But kudos go out to Kyle Wright who is delightfully dorky as Gaston’s lackey, Lefou and Brian Priesman as Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, and he especially shines with his melodic tenor in “No Matter What”.
However, I would be sorely remiss if I failed to mention the fantastic work done by the actors playing the Beast’s servants. These include Bob Gilmore as the too tightly wound Cogsworth, the castle’s major-domo; Steve Krambeck as Lumiere, the charming candelabra with an eye for the ladies; Dawn Buller-Kirke as Mrs. Potts, the castle’s cook who also dazzles with her sweet and moving rendition of the title song; and Joey Galda as Madame De La Grande Bouche, the diva wardrobe.
The role of Belle seemed to be tailor made for Leanne Hill Carlson. She brings intelligence, warmth, sensitivity, and strength to the part. Ms Hill Carlson well communicates Belle’s outsider status due to her peculiar pater and her love of reading while also bringing nobility when she selflessly volunteers to take Maurice’s place as the Beast’s prisoner. With expert ease, she carefully undergoes the transformation from fearing and detesting the Beast to falling in love with him. Her beautiful soprano will keep you mesmerized all evening with such numbers as “A Change in Me”, “Belle”, “Is this Home?”, and “No Matter What”.
Timothy Vallier makes a triumphant debut at the Playhouse with his interpretation of the Beast. Vallier has a phenomenally well modulated voice, capable of a wide range of nuances ranging from animalistic snorting to cold anger to desperate loneliness to tender love. He excellently executes Beast’s transformation from his temperamental, arrogant old self to his emergence as a kind and loving man. Vallier also has a honey sweet tenor which is well utilized in “If I Can’t Love Her” and “How Long Must this Go On?”
Ryan Pivonka rounds out the three leads with his own worthy performance as Gaston. Gaston isn’t your typical villain as he really isn’t evil. He’s simply full of himself and his need to win Belle’s heart does drive him to a few dirty deeds. Pivonka brings a macho swagger to Gaston who routinely roughs up the sycophantic Lefou while singing his own praises in “Gaston”. He also manages to bring a small touch of sympathy to the role as he does genuinely love Belle, it’s just become twisted due to his overwhelming arrogance and selfishness.
I thought the pratfalls and violence could be smoothed out and punched up a bit, but that did little to dampen a magical night of theatre. There are tickets still available, but I highly suggest ordering yours right away as I’ve heard they are rapidly dwindling. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is fun for the whole family and I promise you a Belle of a good time.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 25. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students. Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students. For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.