Long ago and far away — which is another way to begin a fairy tale — there was a young girl named Belle who, to save her father, ventured into the woods and into the life of an enchanted Beast.
Her story, which began centuries ago in a classic French fairy tale, has survived time and translation into one of the most popular theatrical musicals of all time.
Elkhart Civic Theatre’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast” opened a too-short (one weekend) run Friday evening in the Goshen College Umble Center.
Under the direction of ECT’s multi-talented artistic/technical director John Shoup, the change of venue from ECT’s home at the Bristol Opera House added size to this production both in cast and scenic requirements.
The result is, actually, more than expected.
The cast of more than 50 is headed by Sarah Holaway as the spunky village girl who is determined to live life her own way, and Nicholas Hidde-Halsey as the tragic Beast who eventually changes her mind.
Holaway creates a totally delightful Belle, with a clear and warm soprano that makes her solos especially lovely. Her interactions with her slightly eccentric father Maurice (Stephen M. Salisbury) , her egocentric suitor Gaston (Christian Elias) and the roaring Beast all go to form a female well ahead of her time.
Hidde-Halsey wears his beast-face well, going from really bad-tempered animal to shyly sympathetic gentleman without losing his head. He performs the transition vocally and there is no doubt of his reformation.
Around them swirl a bevy of fantastic characters — some enchanted and some almost too human. In the former category are Cameron Ponce as Lumiere, a maître ‘d/candelabra losing his light; Kevin Smith as Cogsworth, a head butler/grandfather clock afraid of running down; Rachel Hall as Babette, a French maid/feather duster upset at her increasing feathers; and Amber Pauls as Mrs. Potts, housekeeper/teapot concerned with everyone’s happiness especially her young son Chip (Lincoln Bontrager) who has become a part of her tea cart.
On the other side, Elias is a Gaston you recognize immediately, even when he announces “I use antlers in all of my decorating!” His bragging description of “Me,” is an audience favorite. At his side (or on the floor) is Zach Rivers, his faithful sidekick (literally) LeFou who racks up more pratfalls in the name of “friendship” than one of the stooges. Both delight in planning evil, as evidenced by their plot with asylum head man Monsieur D’Arque (a menacing Scott Fowler).
All of the “baddies” obviously have a great time as would-be spoilers of the eventual happy ending.
The score by Alan Mencken, book by Linda Wolverton and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice all are given their proper due by principals, instrumentalists and chorus alike.
Fans of the movie (animated or real-life) may be a bit apprehensive when it’s time for the big blockbuster “Be Our Guest.”
Shoup, orchestra director Brian Mast and choreographers Jackiejo Brewers and Matthew Manley have seen to that, with, of course, sharp and enthusiastic participation from the entire ensemble, musicians and unseen (but oh-so-necessary) production people.
I dare you not to cheer!
The not-so-hidden message here, as in all Disney stories, is the struggle to be yourself no matter what and to stand up for whom you love and what you believe.
Who said this was only a fairy tale?
“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” plays 7:30 tonight and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Goshen College Umble Center. For tickets, visitwwww.w.elhartcivicthegor the Umble Center box office.