After three and a half decades, N.C. Theatre knows a thing or two about producing Broadway musicals, reconfirmed by its current run of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” All elements, from cast and director to scenic design and musical execution, blend into a seamless whole that dazzles and engages as only presentations at the highest professional level can.
Disney’s 1991 animated film spawned the 1994 Broadway show, which doubled the songs and expanded plot points. The show is a tricky technical challenge and a daunting physical workout for the actors, but N.C. Theatre takes it all in stride with confidence and panache.
Catherine Charlebois’ Belle gets just the right balance of wistful romantic and spunky individualist, aided by a powerful voice that’s at home in anthems or ballads. Ben Michael also finds the perfect combination of Beast’s angry gruffness and brooding vulnerability, his booming voice unleashed in his signature number, “If I Can’t Love Her.” The pair’s budding romance in the second act, both tender and funny, takes the show to surprisingly emotional heights.
The comic leads land each pun, pratfall and posture with unerring accuracy, a tribute to director Sam Scalamoni’s precise guidance. Peter Saide commands his every scene as Gaston, preening and flexing with hysterical self-admiration, yet also threatening physical harm towering over potential victims. He’s an amazingly agile dancer and plays well with Matthew Simpkins’ loyal sidekick, Lefou, who takes the brunt of Gaston’s swagger. Lamont Wade’s Maurice, Belle’s protective father, projects amusing befuddlement.
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In Beast’s castle, audience favorite Dirk Lumbard inhabits candlestick Lumiere with a willowy Gallic charm, often in comic combat with Michael Brian Dunn’s officious mantle clock, Cogsworth. Ann Van Cleave fills Mrs. Potts, the teapot, with an open heart, sweetly vocalizing the show’s title song. Andrew Delano Farmer defines cuteness as her son, Chip, while Aimee Henderson’s operatic bureau, Madame, and Talia Robinson’s pert featherduster, Babette, add to the merriment.
Much of the production’s success rests with the visuals. J Branson’s atmospheric sets, with their painterly pastels and old-world patina, seem right out of a children’s book. Tiia Torchia’s colorful costumes add marvelous, often humorous detail. Samuel Rushen’s lighting design deserves special credit for its range, from the warm glow of Belle’s village to the spooky castle’s shadowed corridors.
Edward G. Robinson’s orchestra provides lush or peppy accompaniment as needed. The sound reproduction is almost too loud but quite clear, except for the full ensemble, where lyrics become mushy and voices edgy. Sound designers Eric Alexander Collins and Brian L. Hunt provide clever enhancements, including Beast’s roars, wolves’ howls and Lumiere’s candle-lighting whooshes.
At two and a half hours, the show is a long sit for the youngest audience members, but the double entendre lyrics and dialogue add fun for the adults. A few songs and scenes come off as space fillers, but by show’s end, most ticketholders should react like Tuesday’s opening audience, which maintained a genuinely spontaneous roar throughout the curtain calls.
What: “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” presented by N.C. Theatre
Where: Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South St., Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. July 26-30; 2 p.m. July 29-30
Info: 919-831-6941 or nctheatre.com