Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 22, 2016

Beauty & the Beast

St. Michael’s Players, East Longmeadow, MA
through November 19, 2016
by Tim O’Brien

Taking on any large-scale musical is daunting enough, let alone a tale that’s been an animated Disney film beloved for a quarter-century, but the St. Michael’s Players have turned out a true winner.

This reviewer arrived with eight-year-old daughter in tow (to ensure that any glaring departures from the film would be duly noted) to find a packed house, still abuzz from the previous (opening) night’s performance. Clearly, the bar had been set high.

And deservedly so. From the first moments, said daughter sat wholly entranced, as was the audience at large. The big first number, “Belle,” introduced this winsome yet strong-minded lead character (played and sung wonderfully by Jasmine Rochelle Goodspeed) along with seemingly dozens of cheery townsfolk. Her inventor father’s steampunk-ish wood-chopping device was cleverly portrayed as half-bicycle half-machine, adroitly getting around the need to have a horse-drawn cart as in the film.

Much of the comedy here comes from the preening, clueless village macho-man Gaston (AJ Berube) and his wisecracking sidekick LeFou (Brandon Garcia this night; the role was double-cast). The pair were simply outstanding. With his linebacker’s build and inexorable confidence, Berube shines as Belle’s relentless, musclebound suitor. Garcia, small and wiry, is young-Jerry-Lewis, bouncing back from every undeserved punch with the springy energy of a cartoon character.

Once at Beast’s enchanted castle, we meet another terrific group of actors too numerous to mention individually. Silk Johnson is a pure delight as Lumiere the human candelabra, complete with flaming “hands” that “burn” brightly to illuminate his zest for life. Tim Moriarty’s sputtering half-clock Cogsworth is a perfect counterpoint. Sue Comstock McNary (Mrs. Potts) brings motherly compassion and sings the title song beautifully. David Leslie’s acting is a bit handicapped by the Beast mask, but his rich baritone voice is special and humanizes the character nicely.

The costumes were simply outstanding; the sets well-realized and excellent choreography moved the huge cast of extras and kids about the space without traffic jams. Director Frank Jackson’s band was note-perfect as well.

No wonder the place was sold out. This is exactly how big community theatre musicals should be done.