Thursday, January 18, 2018
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Review: Characters carry Show Palace's 'Beauty and the Beast'

Those who saw Disney's Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, or the touring version at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa a few years ago, will be surprised — pleasantly, in my view — at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre's version playing through Feb. 12.

No Beast spinning in the air; no fireworks, laser shows, nor gizmos; no 45-pound dress on Belle, the Beauty; no plastic, body-covering costumes for Beast and his household help. With those distractions absent, you get a sweet love story, nicely rendered characters with many fine voices and facial expressions, gorgeous costumes built so the dancers can really dance, lovely melodies, especially the title song as done by Victoria Stinnett as Mrs. Potts, impressive but not overpowering sets and backdrops, and production numbers that are big, but not overwhelming.

It all makes a show that enchants the young and still entertains adults.

Beauty/Beast is the expanded version of the old French fairy tale about the town beauty who transforms a prince under the spell of a sorceress because of his snarky behavior. He has been transformed into a clunky monster, and, in Disney, his staff members are slowly being turned into household objects like spoons, clocks and furniture. They can all be restored from the spell only if the prince learns to love and to change enough to be loved by someone else before the last petal on an enchanted rose falls.

Most, if not all, in the audience know the story, so the surprises and delights must come out of the production itself. To be sure, the Show Palace version has plenty of spectacle: intense, comic-book colors; flashing lights; swirling smoke, and a large cast enthusiastically executing director/choreographer Jill Godfrey's intricate, high-kicking steps and twirls to Be Our Guest and Human Again.

But it's the characters who carry the show, and carry it they do, starting with the lovely, slender Katie Mitchell as the delicate, but tough Belle, the bookworm, and Matthew Frusher as the outwardly boorish, but inwardly tender Beast. Both are blessed with fine voices, good looks and ample acting skills that they put to good use in this show.

The really fun guy is Michael Mathews as the pompous town bully, Gaston. Mathews's Gaston preens, struts and flexes his muscles in exaggerated cartoon style, wowing the local Silly Girls (Lindsay Nantz, Kristen Wells, Caitie L. Moss), but unable to win the scholarly Belle.

"How can you read this?" Gaston demands of Belle, as he grabs her book. "There are no pictures!" When Belle tells him he is "primeval," he gushes an enthusiastic "Thank you."

Matty Colonna is a delight as Gaston's obsequious sidekick, Lefou, who really does get kicked around by the overbearing Gaston. Pete Clapsis is a sweetie as Maurice, Belle's adoring father and a frustrated inventor. Young Maddox Padgett is adorable as tiny Chip, stealing scenes even when all you can see is his small face peering out of the side of the chipped teacup where he is imprisoned. Is that big voice coming from that small boy?

Listen for the beautifully soaring soprano of Nicole Cavalani as Madam La Grande Bouche, an opera diva being turned into a wooden wardrobe. And delight in the curvaceous Heather Baird as Babette, the sexy maid turned feather duster.

Josh Hayes is appropriately scary as the asylum keeper Monsieur D'argue, who plots to imprison Belle's father in an attempt to blackmail the young woman into marrying the buffoonish Gaston; the dependable Jay R. Goldberg is a charming clock, Cogsworth, and Kevin Korczynski is a nimble Lumiere, even when his French accent falters.

Beauty/Beast may not be a favorite of those who prefer a more cerebral show — think Stephen Sondheim — or even a traditional musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Even so, it's an entertaining, top-notch production and a pleasant experience, plus a great place to take the kids and grandkids.

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