I can tell you a beautiful thing about CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s appealing new production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast”:
It might seem odd to kick off a musical theater review by gushing about the actual musicians – I can’t remember if I’ve ever done it – but I was so wowed by conductor Pete van der Paardt’s stellar ensemble I can’t resist. Alan Menken’s score for this sturdy family favorite requires great chops, and the orchestra delivers. I have a great love for community theater but have extremely picky ears when it comes to community theater orchestras, and this one didn’t hit a sour note.
I can’t acknowledge each name in the 19-member group, but I do tip my hat to percussionist Tammy van der Paardt and a French horn section (Richard Ross Hembree, Kevin Odell and Lilliane Tinuviel Rogers) as solid as a castle wall. The first-act finale, which asks the horns to essentially launch into space with a wail of sound, was still ringing in my ears five minutes into intermission. It was terrific.
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Then there’s Pete van der Paardt’s expert conducting – when one character got out of sync at the Friday performance on opening weekend, he handled it so smoothly it was as if it never happened – weaving it all together. The result: a solid musical foundation for this well known “tale as old as time,” or at least as old as Disney’s powerful marketing muscle, which adapts the classic fairy tale about a young woman imprisoned in a castle by a fearsome beast.
There’s lots more to praise in this jovial production, one of the more successful I’ve seen at CenterStage in recent years. For one thing, director Scott Hancock has assembled an all-star cast in terms of local theater veterans. This includes an amusing and well-played lineup of Enchanted Objects (Terry Lewis as Lumiere, Eric Estep as Cogsworth, Hanna York as Mrs. Potts, Donna Beavers as Madame de la Grand Bouche, and a sweet newcomer, Alison Hatch, as Babette); an experienced Belle (Lorraine Christiansen, who has consistently offered sweet vocals in this role before); a well-known Beast (Isaac Ellis, offering blisteringly good vocals and a stage presence far beyond his years); and Gaston (a booming Nick Netzley, in top singing and acting form).
There’s lots more to praise in this jovial production, one of the more successful I’ve seen at CenterStage in recent years.
Daniel Sutherland, as a solid Monsieur D’Arque, is a well-known face on local stages. Even little Jackson Estep, who admirably plays the role of Chip, is a “veteran” of sorts, having racked up a stage credit in CenterStage’s “The Music Man” as Winthrop.
All are quite accomplished, which didn’t surprise me one bit. (That’s why they’re veterans.) I was also tickled to discover a prodigious new talent: Connor Barton as the unctuous sidekick LeFou. As animated on stage as a Disney cartoon, Barton inhabits his character with athletic commitment, pushing the goofiness just far enough.
I’ve been tough on CenterStage productions in past years because there’s a lot of potential there. This time around I do think there are some weak spots, particularly when it comes to some of the direction (by Hancock) and choreography (by Erin Roberts). The staging seems static in such numbers as “Belle” and “Gaston,” with the players often grouped in awkward clumps that do little on stage. As the opening number, “Belle” should erupt with the energy and bustle of small-town life, and “Gaston” should be as pulse-elevating as “Be Our Guest.”
There are also a number of awkward extended vamps as actors wait for the orchestra to get through the introduction of a song.
I did quite like the dancing in “Human Again,” however, one of this production’s highlights.
The sets (rented from Children’s Musical Theaterworks) are much better than last year’s “Mary Poppins,” and the colorful and elegant costumes are all that you’d expect from a “Beauty.” (The only one that didn’t work for me was the Beast’s; it doesn’t seem fearsome enough, the horns seem tiny and the hair too close to a regular human’s.)
And then there’s the big production number, “Be Our Guest,” which might not be the most spectacular version of the song you’ll ever see but certainly gets points for enthusiasm from the salt-and-pepper shakers. Overall, the show is level and quality of the production is strong. And it’s all buoyed by that glorious orchestra. Let’s take it out with those glorious horns blasting us all the way to the moon.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
- 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21, and Friday, July 22; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23
- Mercedes Edwards Theatre, 902 5th St., Clovis
- www.centerstageclovis.com, 559-323-8744.
- $20, $18 students and seniors