“Beauty and the Beast” brings the best of Disney magic and wonder to the Gallo Center for the Arts.
The NETworks Presentations’ touring production is the most expensive show the Gallo Center for the Arts has ever booked, and judging from Friday’s opening show, it’s worth every penny.
You want visual spectacle? This show has it in spades. It’s got giant champagne bottles popping on stage, streamers shooting into the audience and a dramatic thunder-and-lightening storm.
There’s showgirl style dancing, gasp-inducing acrobatics and life-sized animal puppets. At times I felt I was in Las Vegas.
Based on the 1991 Oscar-winning animated film, it’s one of the rare family shows that truly is entertaining for children and adults alike. It centers on a young bright woman from a small provincial town and a Beast who is really a prince under a magic spell. The only way the spell can be broken is if the Beast learns to love and is loved in return.
The musical features catchy, lovely melodies (“Be Our Guest,” “Gaston”) written by composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and witty dialogue by Linda Woolverton.
Liz Shivener, who stars as Belle, looks and acts like the original cartoon heroine. More interested in reading than in mindlessly flirting like other girls in her town, Belle has big dreams and wants to have adventures.
Tall Justin Glaser is an imposing figure as the Beast. Harsh and scary at first, he soon changes into a gentle soul under Belle’s influence. His airborne transformation into the prince at the end is one of the most impressive feats I have ever seen in a show.
Nathaniel Hackmann is hilarious as Gaston, the self-absorbed bully who hopes to marry Belle. Michael Fatica shows considerable gymnastic skill as he flips and flops about the stage as Gaston’s much abused sidekick Lefou.
Some of the best singing in the show comes from Sabina Petra as the kindly Mrs. Potts, one of the many servants in the Beast’s household who have been transformed into household objects as part of the spell. Her rendition of the show’s title song is glorious.
Merritt David Janes contributes French charm as Lumiere, a servant transformed into a candle, and Keith Kirkwood is tightly wound as Cogsworth, who has turned into a clock. Christopher Spencer is endearing as Belle’s absent minded genius father.
Stanley Meyer’s set is a kaleidoscope of colors and Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes offer plenty of 18th century charm. The orchestra, led by Carolyn Violi, provides a full, rich sound.
With tickets priced at $39-$99, “Beauty and the Beast” is not cheap but it delivers. If you want to see a top-of-the line production performed by professionals, this is one not to be missed.