Sunday, April 21, 2024

If You Ask Me: “Beauty and the Beast”

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A Downsized “Beauty” at Legacy Theatre

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

Well, it’s “B” for effort to the Legacy Theatre in Branford, which is currently offering a downsized production of a big Broadway musical, “Beauty and the Beast“. The jewel box theatre with its postage stamp-sized stage is not the ideal venue for the Disney behemoth, which began life as a 1991 Oscar nominated animated film and then hit Broadway, for better or worse, in 1993 with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and book by Linda Woolverton.  A diminished version of this splashy musical isn’t the best way to see this show, but they’re trying awfully hard at Legacy.

Bookish Belle (Melanie Martyn), the daughter of eccentric inventor Maurice (David Bell), feels out of place in her provincial town where its most “eligible bachelor,” the outlandish stud, Gaston (a seriously miscast Scott A. Towers), has proposed marriage. Through a series of events, Maurice becomes the hostage of the Beast (Dan Frye), formerly an entitled Prince who was cursed by a witch for his selfishness and will remain in his beastly form until he finds someone who can honestly love him.  When Belle offers herself in a swap for her dad, she becomes the Beast’s unwilling captive and possible salvation.

At Legacy, the large group numbers have a hard time reaching liftoff, mostly because Paola Pacheco Rarick’s choreography has been stymied forcing actors to taking baby steps, given the size of the stage. The classic “Be My Guest” number looks seriously underpopulated here, along with the pub scenes featuring Gaston and his supporters.

Director Keely Basiden Knudsen fares better with smaller sequences as when Mrs. Potts (Susan Kulp) sings a lovely rendition of the title song and the Beast and Belle share a dance.  But most of the show demands a larger canvas and though the various projections (courtesy of Matt Kizer Design, LLC) are a welcome addition, the climatic fight between Gaston and the Beast is unduly confusing as to exactly where we are and what is Gaston’s fate?e

The performances are a mixed bag. Frye is probably best vocally, especially with his bold anthem, “If I Can’t Love Her” at the first act curtain.  Martyn looks exactly right as Belle and sings pleasantly, but hits some higher notes harshly here and there.  Towers gives it a go as Gaston, but it’s clearly an uphill battle since he’s never quite believable as male perfection. His effeminate sidekick, LaFou (Robert Peter Paul, one of only two Equity actors in the show), fares even worse and is allowed far too much latitude by the director resulting in an outlandish performance that seems out of sync with everyone else on stage.  In addition to Kulp, her fellow castle staffers Lumiere (Niko Charny) and Cogsworth (Josiah Rowe) are a consistent delight.

Given the many limitations, scenic and lighting designer Jamie Burnett achieves some kind of miracle here and Jimmy Johansmeyer does even better than that with the terrific costuming.  When, late in the musical, Belle descends the stairs wearing a stunning gold ball gown, there were audible gasps in the audience.  Speaking of the audience, Legacy appears to have a hit on its hands with small children filling every other seat.  Good for them.  But please avoid scheduling “Cats” any time in the near future!

“Beauty and the Beast” continues at the Legacy Theatre, 128 Thimble Island Road, Branford, through August 27th.  For further information, call: (203) 315-1901 or visit: www.legacytheatrect.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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