You know it’s community theater and you know it’s not Broadway, but what director Michael Disher has wrought with a cast of 20 in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at the Southampton Cultural Center is nothing short of marvelous. For two hours it’s like being dropped into a fun house of musical delight and visual extravaganza. I cannot rave enough about this show!
The story is the familiar fairy tale of the prince turned into a beast when he’s nasty to a crone bearing a flower for him. Only when someone loves him—before the last rose loses all its petals—will he return to his handsome, manly form. Of course years go by before the right girl appears and of course it all turns out like it is supposed to. But what rich and plucky fun there is in the getting there.
“Beauty and the Beast” is the most expensive show to date—$37,000 and counting—by Mr. Disher’s Center Stage. This is evident in not only the live music provided by an ensemble of eight under the direction of Amanda Borsack Jones, but also the sumptuous costuming that more than makes up for the simple sets of the show. The castle door, which comes and goes throughout, a small stone ledge, and a few others props are the minimalist sets, but with the maximalist costumes, more was not missed.
But what is truly fantastic about what Mr. Disher did is assemble an experienced but unpaid cast with fab voices—who could also act—for this fantasy that unfolds like an elaborate pop-up story book on Southampton Cultural Center’s modest stage. Together, the cast’s voices are powerful and uplifting; separately, they are clear and strong.
Mary Sabo as the young beauty Belle cannot only sing with heart, this woman can also act. She’s paired with Darren Ottati—whose rich tenor has wowed before—as the Beast, and he wows us again here in his single solo, “If I Can’t Love Her.”
Behind the mask and elaborate hirsute costume, Mr. Ottati has freed up his emotions with physicality as well as vocal chords. Together, Ms. Sabo and Mr. Ottati bring the show to a rich climax with feeling, even though you know the story is a fairy tale. My plus-one and I both had damp eyes at the end, and I’m sure we were not the only ones in the packed house on Saturday night.
The ancillary characters in this show are likewise boffo, one after the other. When the prince was turned into the Beast, so were other humans in his circle and employ turned into inanimate objects. But in fantasyland, they live on as the candelabra Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and her son, Chip, a cracked tea cup, Cogsworth, a clock and the butler in charge, a closet, and a slinky, sexy feather duster named Babette. Oy vey! They are all so good, where to begin?
Adam Fronc as Lumiere has his coy and decidedly French accent and mannerisms so perfected that every time he moves or speaks you smile, and his role is happily expansive; Michael Casper as Cogsworth (and choreographer) tries to keep Lumiere under control but fails, and together they are a delicious tag team.
Bethany Dellapolla as Mrs. Potts, Alyssa Semken (also a choreographer) as Babette, and Michaal Lyn Schepps as Madame De La Grande Bouche—actually a talking closet—are all outstanding in their roles. Ms. Schepps’s powerful voice is operatic to suit her part. Incidentally, her son, Gabriel DiFrancesco, is the young boy in the ensemble.
But one would be remiss to pass over lightly the villain-of-sorts, Tom Rosante as Gaston. He’s the rejected suitor of Belle. Mr. Rosante rises to the role with cocky aplomb that is fetching in its own boastful way (Gaston does have the funniest lyrics), besotting three silly village girls (Anna Francesca Schiavoni, Amanda Summers and Pamela Morris).
The show’s dance numbers spill off the stage, and while the chorus line may be a bit ragtag at this point, exuberance and a couple of dancers (especially Ms. Semken) steal your attention to make up for less than faultless coordination in the rear. The lengthy number near the end of the first act, “Be Our Guest,” is just a gas—music and dancing and lightning costume changes.
We sometimes leave out the names of everyone in the cast, but that would not be fair in this show, for their contributions, large and small, are what make this lively production of “Beauty and the Beast” such a smash: Marco Barrila (narrator/bookseller), Daniel Becker (Belle’s father), Julie Crowley (villager), Jonathan Fogarty (LeFou), Joey Giovingo (M. De’Arque), Elijah Jones (Chip), Katrina Lovett (villager), and Thomas Wheeler (the prince). Many children were in the audience Saturday night but the show was engaging enough to make their presence notable only in how quiet they were.
We are not kidding about smash hit: The show runs Friday through Sunday for the next two weekends, and the Sunday matinées are already sold out.
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One fine body…