A Sweet Family Treat – Peach State Summer Theatre “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST”

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DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM dualcritics@comecast.net

Peach State Summer Theatre (PSST!) in Valdosta, Georgia has been presenting three professional musicals each summer in repertory for a number of years. Each year they have selected one or more that is kid-friendly. This year’s selection is”Beauty and the Beast,” which many adults also find enjoyable.

The musical is an adaptation of a 1991 Disney film, an animated musical that was made into a stage musical in 1994. It remains one of the most popular shows in American theatrical history and is frequently produced.

Based on a French fairy tale, the story is that of an attractive young women named Belle, portrayed by Megan Wheeler, whose marvelous voice is captivating. Belle lives in a small village with her nonconformist father Maurice (John Payonk).  Her interests differ from those of her neighbors; she enjoys books and reading and she is not at all interested in the romantic proposals of the pompous and overbearing Gaston, the town bully. We have frequently seen Gaston portrayed with a fake muscle costume, but that’s not necessary for Jonathan Brian Furedy, who has some pretty fair biceps himself along with a powerful singing voice, and makes himself totally detestable with his personality.

The first scene in the play has a young prince (Christopher Taylor) approached by a beggar woman on a cold winter night, who wants to trade a red rose for a night’s lodging in the castle. When the uncharitable Prince refuses, the old woman changes into a beautiful Enchantress (Allison Roberts) who turns the Prince into a beast, doomed to remain a beast until he can find his true love.

Beauty and Beast 1Belle and Maurice both become prisoners in the castle of the beast, who has a frightening appearance and an even more frightening temper. The Enchantress has also ensorcelled the Prince’s servants, who appear as household furnishings: Cogsworth (Alejandro Gutierrez) as a clock, Lumiere (Olin Davidson) as a candelabra, and Mrs. Potts (Ashlee Dutson) and her son Chip (John Laurent Dean or Hudson Hardesty Hsu), as a teapot and a teacup. The maid Babette (Sara Wildes Arnett) has been changed into a coquettish feather duster, while Madame de la Grande Bouche, a former opera singer (Heather McCall) has become a chest of drawers.

Will Gaston persuade Belle to marry him? Will the servants become human again? Will the Beast find love? Well, no spoilers here, we will let you discover the story’s unfolding for yourself.

Nothing is permanent on this set, and the town, tavern and castle are dropped in from the ceiling with precision. We especially liked the tavern, decorated with animal heads mounted on the wall. The action featured Lefou (Joshua Barcol) as Gaston’s nimble-bodied sidekick and three dancing Silly Girls (Taylor-Kate Eubanks, Emily Meinerding, and Jeanne Schwenck) .

The musical number “Be Our Guest,” which featured much of the cast as dancing plates, napkins and flatwear was a crowd favorite, filled with energy that the stage barely seemed able to contain. The costumes were colorful, plentiful and gorgeous.

While all the voices were splendid, we were impressed by Peyon Crim as the Beast, and his rendition of “If I can’t Love her” was awesome with his deep bass voice.

PRODUCTION TEAM: Jacque Wheeler (Director), Jason Celaya (Choreographer), Joe Mason (Musical Director), Abby Vincent (Stage Manager), Johanna Miller (Technical Director), Christen Orr (Fight Choreography), Zach Cramer (Sound Consultant), Esther L. Iverson (Costume Coordinator), Genny Wynn-Muncy (Lighting Design), Ruth A. Brandvik (Scenic & Projection Design).

We recommend reserving early for this show; tickets are going fast. Remaining dates for Beauty and the Beast are June 30, July 3, 6, 10, 14, and 16. Visit www.valdosta.edu/psst for additional information.



About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.