Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
As a 90- minute animated movie, the storytelling was swift, focused, and full of Gallic charm, appropriate since it is set in France. Blown up to 2 1/2 hours, it seems bloated, partly because the added musical material is mostly blah when compared to original songs such as "Belle," "Be Our Guest" and of course the title song, sung while Belle and the Beast are truly falling in love. Only "If I Can't Love Her" for the Beast seems necessary, while titles such as "No Matter What," "Home," and "Human Again" are not first rate.
A superb cast of Broadway pros might be able to keep this overlong version lively. Manatee Players' cast is good, but at the performance I attended it seamed that holiday fatigue has set in and much of this cast was not at its best. Melanie Bierweiler sings well as Belle, makes a lovely looking heroine, but I just didn't feel any real chemistry between her and Dave Downer as the Beast. Mr. Downer's singing is the strongest of the entire cast and he can do menacing quite well, as well as the extreme moments of anger borne out of frustration. Brian Rudolph as Gaston is properly full of bravado, aided by Noah Roderiques as LeFou in one of the liveliest performances on the stage.
Craig Engle is paternal as Maurice, but his singing is not strong. Griffyn Holcomb as Lumiere, Mark Eichorn as Cogsworth, Marianne Hernandez as Mrs. Potts, Andrea Keddell as Madame de la Grande Bouche, and Micaela Baca as Babette all are fine but lack the charm that might have made these portrayals memorable, and sadly, "Be Our Guest" doesn't take wing. Caitlyn DeMocko as Chip (alternating with Christopher Rudolph) practically steals the show from the adults. All the members of the ensemble playing everything from villagers to Utensils and Napkins at the castle are fine, but the dancing lacks polish and focus.
I can't judge the work of director Cory Boyas, as I can't tell whether this production failed to make the impact I would have wished because the cast is tired and not giving their best or that it never found the charm and focus so missing. Let me say that Mr. Boyas has staged the show reasonably wellthe fluidity required in many of the castle scenes is well done and overall the show moves well. Michelle Neal is music director, which in this case means preparing everyone musically, as the show is done with pre recorded tracks, demanded by Disney who controls the rights, and this is definitely part of the problem with this production. Becky Evans has done a fine job with costumes that replicate what many remember from the animated movie, and the scenic design by Caleb Carrier has some of the charm lacking elsewhere. Lighting designer Joseph P. Oshry's work is, as always, excellent. Some sonic demons that seemed to have been driven from Manatee Performing Arts Center have crept back in. The legend at the top of the show was unintelligible to me and my companion for the evening (was this on the recorded tracks?) and some lyrics were not as easy to discern as recent productions in this venue. Sound design is by Tom Sell.
Also available to audiences at Manatee Performing Arts Center is It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.
In theory, Beauty and the Beast is perfect holiday fare for families to share together. Hopefully, the performance I attended was an anomaly and this production will delight them.
Manatee Players presents Disney's' Beauty and the Beast at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts through December 18, 2016, at 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941-748-0111, manateeplayers.com.
Directed and Choreographed by Cory Boyas