Add the Disney magic to the “tale as old as time” and what do you get?
A full house for the opening night of The Barn Theatre’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast.”
It seems that no matter how many times this “tale” is told, the effect on children of all ages is the same: When Belle says “I love you” to the Beast, hearts melt audibly —at least they did Tuesday night.
Much of the reaction is due to the efforts of the talented Barn Theatre cast. For this production, all the stops were pulled out, sometimes literally.
The main — make that mane — man was returning Barn veteran Jamey Grisham, usually seen in lighter outfits as the resident choreographer. His performance was the surprise of the evening, managing to give the cursed prince more than just a shattering roar. His frustration as the time limit (marked by falling rose petals) on the enchantment ran out was palpable as was his increasing affection for Belle, which underscored his return to humanity.
As Belle, the object of his leonine affections, Andrea Arvanigian is calmly courageous in the face of roaring hostility and, at home, stands her ground as the “odd girl” in town and the focus of the marital machinations of the ultra-arrogant Gaston (Albert Nelthropp), town strongman and egotist extrordinaire. Her strong soprano is well-displayed in her solos “Home” and “A Change in Me.”
Gaston, always a crowd favorite villain, swaggers beautifully and accepts the town’s applause in the rousing “Gaston,” which covers all his manly skills including decorating (with antlers) and features the ensemble in a well-executed routine involving beer mugs.
Leading his entourage are Lefou (Ryan Carter Johnson), a toadying syncophant who lives to receive Gaston’s hard knocks, and Three Silly Girls (Anissa Grieco, Rachel Mahar and Gabi Shook) who refuse to let Gaston’s engagement deter them.
Belle’s home safety net is her slighty wacky but very loving father Maurice (Charlie King), a practicing inventor. His imprisonment by the Beast brings Belle to the castle.
As always, the inhabitants of the castle — who also share the Prince’s’ curse — are the enchanted objects, staff members who are slowly turning into the “things” that most closely resemble their duties in life.
It doesn’t take much for Lumiere (Hans Friedrichs), maitre‘d/candelabra; Cogsworth (John Jay Espino), butler/grandfather clock; Babette (Samantha Rickard), parlor maid/feather duster; Madame de la Grande Bouche (Elyssa Blonder), ladies maid/wardrobe; Mrs. Potts (Penelope Alex), housekeeper/teapot; and Chip (Aiden Wall), her son/tea cup, to earn cheers just for being there — which also means cheers for costume designers Goulet Bartholomew and Lauren Alexandra.
The actors, however, strike all the right notes in creating humorously believable objects. Along with the imaginatively garbed ensemble members who become kitchen and dining room utensils, they solidly deliver the first act “show stopper” “Be Our Guest,” with special applause to Ian Lah who gives new meaning to the term “throw rug,”
On the dark side, Patrick Hunter is gleefully evil as Monsieur D’Arque, proprietor of the local asylum, the “Maison des Lunes.”
Under the direction of Brendan Ragotzy, the familiar story moves along well. The scenic design, by Steven Lee Burright and Samantha Snow, features revolving stairs, an obvious necessity which, nonetheless, by the second act becomes rather annoying as do the movable flats. The last would no be so annoying if the “movers” who shift them rapidly from side to side to denote passage of time were not clearly visible.
The six piece orchestra under the direction of conductor/keyboardist Brent J. Decker, does well with Alan Menken’s score and, for the most part, is fairly well balanced with the singers. Some of this, however, is due to the sound balances which no doubt will improve as performances continue.
This is very obviously a family-oriented production, with many of the younger “Belles” attending in their own ball gowns.
This “tale as old as time,” it seems, encompasses all generations.
Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST plays through Aug. 17 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (2269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatreschool.org