Fiddlehead Theatre Company's first show of their new season is Disney's "Beauty and the Beast". The show first opened on April 19, 1994 and is still running on Broadway. Based on the 1991 Disney movie the show tells the story of a spell cast on a Prince which transformed him into a ferocious beast. He must love and be loved before the last petal falls from the rose or he will be a beast forever. Into his life comes beautiful bookish Belle. They must learn to love each other after he makes her a prisoner in his desolate castle. She could melt the ice cap and indeed, even his heart. But will she see through his facade in time? Throw in many colorful characters including her inventor father, Maurice, the town strongman, Gaston, his hilarious sidekick, Lefou and the numerous enchanted humans turned into household fixtures at the Beast's castle and you have the makings of this marvelous musical masterpiece which combines comedy and pathos to create a superb show that people of all ages can enjoy.Director Michael Hammond, music director Marcus Hauck and choreographer Pam Shapiro take this 28 member cast and do a magnificent job with this show. Their combined efforts are rewarded by the enthusiatic response from the audience at the end of this magical tale. Bravo.
Michael casts topnotch people in all these roles and blocks them wonderfully from start to finish to capture your attention. He pays attention to every detail in the show and surrounds himself with the best theater folks around. Markus conducts his 15 piece orchestra beautifully and makes the cast members shine in all their numbers including solo and choral ones. Pam supplies so many different dance steps to this show including tap, can can, tango , a kickline and a waltz. The first four are done in the breathtaking, showstopping vaudeville style number "Be Our Guest" and the last is found in the title song done by Beauty and the Beast. Pam gets the best dance moves out of this cast and she always does wonderful work in every show I've seen her do. The technical aspects of the show standout especially in all the gorgeous and colorful costumes made by Stacey Stephens, who worked on "Miss Saigon" and "Five Guys Named Moe" on Broadway, the many backdrops and set pieces designed by Laura McPherson, the fabulous makeup on all the characters especially the beast by Carol Salemi, the many lighting and sound effects including lightning by Jay Marks of Unistage and numerous props by Gary Poholek. Kudos to all the staff lead by Meg Fofonoff, producer and artistic director, who made this a production to be very proud of.
The outstanding leads of this show are Jen Ellis as Belle and Gene Dante as the Beast. She is a stunning brunette with an amazing soprano voice which knocks your socks off in many numbers including "Belle", (where you learn she loves to read books and the townspeople find her odd) "Is This Home?" ( where she laments being held prisoner in the castle) and "A Change in Me". (where she finally discovers she and the Beast have many things in common with each other.)Jen's strong acting shows that Belle is determined to control her life and is head strong at times but she finally sees the kind person beneath the rough exterior of the Beast. Jen and Gene make these characters so true to life with their acting talents that they bring you to tears when the Beast releases her from captivity and shows his sympathetic side. Gene is frightening and threating at first but he handles the transition into the heroic Beast who becomes a prince again because of the love of Belle. His speaking and singing voice are dynamic and authoritative as the master of his castle and his solo number "If I Can't Love Her" at the end of Act 1 soars off the charts with its power and pathos, evoking empathy for his character. The transformation from Beast into handsome prince is splendid, giving the audience the happy ending it wants after cheering for them all night long.
Dan Kelly plays Belle's absent-minded father who gets lost in the woods, gets chased by wolves and ends up becoming the Beast's prisoner. Belle takes his place there and he returns to save her only to find out she has fallen for a gentler Beast. Dan and Jen sing a tender ballad called "No Matter What" which shows how they have each other to depend on for all time and he plays the role very well. Robert Case does a great job as Gaston, the egomaniac town strongman who wants to marry Belle whether she wants to or not. (His constant flexing and preening are laugh out loud moments.) At six feet four he towers over rest of the cast but plays the town buffon wonderfully and shows off his powerful singing voice in "Me" where tries to woe Belle while singing about how wonderful he is and "Gaston" where 3 silly girls ( the gorgeous looking dance captains, Samantha Jones, Leah Flaherty and Colleen Mason are hilarious as these bubble headed bimbos) who faint and fawn over him with the chorus. Gaston turns into a villain in Act 2 where he plots to have Maurice committed to an insane asylum in "Maison des Lunes"( the evil doctor is played with gusto by Bill Stambach in this song but earlier in Act 1, he gets to play a comic bookseller, showing his versatility )and where he rouses the rabble to go and kill the Beast in "The Mob Song". The biggest scene stealer in this show is Jeff Mahoney as Lefou, Gaston's sidekick who is constantly being beaten up, smacked on the head and in the face. He slids across the stage with the best pratfalls and farcical facial expressions and movements. Jeff also displays his comic timing in his lines as well as his singing in the "Gaston" number where he leads the chorus in a rousing dance and in the second act songs with Robert. He is a hoot and always delivers the good in the various roles I've seen him in.
The servants of the Beast are excellent portrayed, too. Paula Markowicz plays the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Potts while clad a teapot costume. She shows off her lovely soprano voice in a section of "Be Our Guest" and in the Oscar winning song, "Beauty and the Beast". Her son, Chip who is clad in a teacup costume is played by Sam Wartenberg who shows of his strong singing voice in some solo lines in some of the chorus numbers. John King does a perfect French accent as the butler, Lumiere (he has candlesticks for hands) and shows off his powerful voice while singing the lead part of "Be Our Guest". He show off his dancing talent, doing a tango with the sexy Babette played by Melissa Prusinski who does a great job in this vampy role. Ray O'Hare plays the constantly worrying Cogsworth while clad in a clock costume and provides some comic moments along the way with his facial expressions and nervous tics. Wardrobe is played by Kathy Lague who gets to show off her operatic voice and appears as Brunhilde while defending the castle in Act 2. Some other cast members include Nick LaRoche, a 15 year old as Salt, Alexander Max Fofonoff, a 14 year old as Pepper and Madeline Ford, a 7th grader as the somersaulting carpet. Great job by the rest of this cast in this huge undertaking. So for one of the first looks at a show still running on Broadway, be sure to catch this stupendous version of "Beauty and the Beast" right here in Norwood, MA. You won't be disappointed. Just tell them Tony sent you.