A Dual Critics Review by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom [email protected]
The Alhambra Theatre has scheduled a summer show that is family-friendly and will appeal to theatre goers of all ages. This year’s treat is the ever-popular smash hit musical “Beauty and the Beast,” which opened on June 15 and will be on stage through July 31, 2016. If you read no further than this, let it be known that the production is top-notch, filled with peerless voices, delightful dancing, and magnificent costumes.
Many readers are familiar with this French fairytale that debuted as an animated musical Disney film in 1991. A stage adaptation opened on Broadway in 1994 and was a smash hit.
The story, set in a small rural French village in the distant past, is that of Belle, an attractive young woman, and her romance with a beast.
The beast was not always a beast. At the very beginning of the play, during a cold winter evening, a beggar woman approaches a handsome Prince (Melvin Edward Nash II) and asks him to accept a red rose in exchange for shelter. When the cold-hearted Prince refuses, the woman reveals her true identity as a beautiful Enchantress and turns him into a loathsome beast, doomed to remain in that state until he finds his true love.
Belle is portrayed by Alhambra newcomer, Emily Stokes, who has a fantastic mesmerizing voice. Belle loves books and reading, and lives with her father Maurice, an unconventional inventor, portrayed by Robert Lydiard, a long-time veteran of film and Broadway.
When the self-centered body builder Gaston, attracted by Belle’s beauty, asks her to marry him, she quickly rejects his unwanted romantic advances. Gaston is played with gusto by Tony Lawson, who did this role in a U.S.National Tour.
Belle and her father eventually become prisoners in the Beast’s castle. Ten years have passed since the Prince’s unfortunate encounter with The Enchantress and he remains a bad-tempered fearsome creature (who, portrayed by Peter Joshua, in his Alhambra debut, has a glorious rich voice). Maurice and Belle are greeted by servants who were also placed under a spell by the Enchantress and now appear in the guise of household furnishings: Lumiere (Brian Beach) as a candelabra, Cogsworth (Erik DeCicco) as a clock, and Mrs. Potts (Lisa Valdini) and her son Chip (Harrison Davey) as a teapot and teacup. The maid Babette (Katie Nettle) has been changed into a flirtatious feather duster, while a former opera singer (Krista Severeid) appears as a chest of drawers.
The set by Dave Dionne and Ian Black opens with a village scene that includes the quaint home shared by Maurice and Belle. The castle is more elaborate, and includes Belle’s room, a library, and a West Wing room where the Beast keeps a rose left to him by the Enchantress.
The costumes by the Costume Crew (Camala Pitts & Dorinda Quiles) are gorgeous, with rustic clothes for the villagers, beautiful gowns for Belle, creative effects for the non-human characters, appropriate fur for the Beast, and red eyes for the menacing wolves. One of the most intriguing costumes was that of the teacup, which enveloped second-grader Harrison Davey, leaving only his face visible. The costumes could not have been better in the Broadway show, and the Alhambra obviously spared no expense in the production of this lavish version.
Several musical numbers featuring the magical choreography of James Kinney brought extended ovations from the audience. “Me” was about Gaston, who was joined by his hilarious sidekick Le Fou (Jason Nettle). “Be Our Guest” featured the entire ensemble with dancing plates, dancing flatware, and amazing precision. And of course, “Transformation” brought happy applause to the happy ending of Belle and her transformed Beast.
Rounding out this large cast were Rachel Schimenti, Taylor Habershaw, Sophie Leudi (Silly Girls), Kenneth Uibel (Monsieur D’Arque), Travis Gerald Young (Baker), Peter Jackson (Bookseller), and Michael Lomeka (Milkman).
Producer/ Director Tod Booth has once again brought Jacksonville audiences a fascinating and spellbinding musical. With this production, he and Musical Director Cathy Murphy Giddens have brought some of the finest voices ever to the Alhambra stage. Don’t miss this one.
Note: To accommodate children, the curtain time is at 7:30, an earlier time than usual, and the dining options include a menu for kids.
The Alhambra Theatre is at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. For reservations call 904-641-1212 or visit alhambrajax.com.