LEHI — Beauty and the Beast from the Lehi City Arts Council at Willowcreek Middle School is a wonderful, magical production that’s perfect for families. The show is exciting and fun, and the family atmosphere is enhanced by the presence of several families who are in the production together.
Director Kurt Elison made some excellent casting choices, including Erica Glenn, who played a lovely and animated Belle that complemented well David Henry‘s Beast. Henry was gruff and had a great growling voice, and while he struggled with hitting the long notes in Alan Menken‘s score (with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice) in songs like “If I Can’t Love Her,” he played the character’s progression of gradually falling in love very well. Stephen Miner, who played Lefou, was a marvelous supporting character to Kyle Fotheringham‘s Gaston. Miner was rowdy and entertaining without being obnoxious.
Even though Beauty and the Beast is a children’s show, I would have liked the villains to be more villainous. Fotheringham has “biceps to spare” and played arrogance very well, but he wasn’t convincing as a character who could actually cause harm to anyone, which is what Linda Woolverton‘s script demands. Monsieur D’Arque (played by Max Durrant) was sneaky and creepy and had a fantastic voice, but his version of slinking looked kind of like he was trying to cha-cha real smoothly.
The set, designed by Jerry Hatch and Ryan Jeppson, was charming and magical, with gigantic books that the cast pulled out and opened to create smaller sets of the book shop, Belle’s home, and the dungeon of the castle. Having the story happening inside actual books added to the sense of whimsy. They weren’t titles that Belle would have had access to in 1700’s France, but they were titles children in the audience might recognize.
Set pieces were moved by cast members instead of stage crew, which helped to maintain suspension of disbelief as there was no one dressed in modern street clothes sneaking on and off the stage. However, the grand reveal of the library was disappointing, as the Beast just led Belle to the same set of book-stairs she’d been climbing up and down during the whole performance. One more giant book that unfolded to be her beloved library would have given that moment the cinematic splendor it deserved. The costumes by Mariah Knittle were fun, rich, colorful, and directly reminiscent of the Disney movie, so children in the audience can identify the characters they already know and love.
There were some technical difficulties with mics cutting out or giving feedback, but other than that the show went off without a hitch, with set changes well-rehearsed and not distracting. For the transformation from beast to man, the technical staff just turned off the lights and blew some smoke, which seems like cheating. But the crowd cheered when the prince appeared, so in the end, it was effective.
If there’s anything that can shatter the illusion created by a great musical, it’s someone pretending to play a musical instrument. That’s why it was so fantastic to have Raelynn Robbins as the coat stand actually playing the violin to serenade Belle and the Beast during their iconic ballroom scene. It was a gorgeous complement to Julie Jensen‘s enchanting performance of the song “Beauty and the Beast” as she played the role of Mrs. Potts
The ensemble for this production was full of great singers, including soaring sopranos. The melody got swallowed by those powerful sopranos in the song “Human Again,” but overall, the supporting cast was energetic and talented. The ensemble read as a group of characters instead of human props, which is particularly difficult to achieve when they’re playing, well, props. The napkins during “Be Our Guest” and the villagers during “The Mob Song” were particularly full-bodied, supporting characters.
Overall, it was a very nice community production that would be great to take even small children to. The show runs through August 20th, and audience members also have the option of purchasing tickets to a princess tea with Belle on August 20th before the show.