Theatre Review: Enchanting BEAUTY AND THE BEAST comes to The Croswell
Belle, played by Kristen Fandrey of Swanton, Ohio, confronts the Beast, played by Jarrod Alexander of Toledo, in a scene from "Beauty and the Beast" at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian.
One of my favorite parts about “Beauty and The Beast” at the Croswell, was surveying the sold out crowd on opening night and observing the many generations in attendance. From the four year old likely seeing their first show ever, to the older crowd who dutifully raised their hands when asked if they had seen over 100 productions on that stage, which they should wear like a badge of honor, was rather encompassing and heartwarming. I knew I was in good company.
It really says a lot about the Disney brand and how influential they’ve been in so many lives, and the same goes for The Croswell, who’ve touched so many with the arts in our community. This time around, they deliver a jam packed and marvelous production, and I bet there wasn't a dry eye in the house when the company earned their standing ovation after the night's performance.
The songs are iconic. The characters are iconic. Everything about this show is iconic. It holds a special place in the hearts of most audience members, so you better believe The Croswell do the show justice. Director Sue Smith, a Croswell regular, steps up to the daunting task of putting on such a technically demanding opus. She uses her cast of around 50 people effortlessly, including some youngsters that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Including one child that manages to acrobat their way around the stage, with impressive flips and movements that I’m sure choreographer, Sarah Nowak insisted upon. Speaking of movements and dancing, Nowak nails it.
Alas, it takes a village to put on a show of this scale. Including the timeless score by Alan Menken, brought to life so vividly by the rat-ta-tat bravado of David Rains and his orchestra machine. The cast is all spectacularly spot on as well.
With a story that hardly needs a synopsis, watching Kristen Fandrey performing as Belle and Jarrod Alexander as Beast can really make it feel like you’re just watching this story come to life for the first time. Honestly, it’s quite a bit of pressure for this cast. Because, I can’t help by think, this will be the first time some of these kiddos will see the show live. Thus making Fandrey their “Belle” and Alexander their “Beast.” Kind of how Christian Bale is my “Batman” while yours could be Adam West or Michael Keaton. Those are some big shoes to fill. No worries though, the two leads have the type of chemistry this show needs to land on it’s own feet.
However, the show is even more complete by the rapturous dynamic of David Blackburn as Lumiere (he ingeniously steals every scene he’s in) and Michael Yuen, who is such a solid performer I could watch a show just about his lovable Cogsworth and be content. The two are a comedic dream team. Peter Christ beings his own flare to the helm of our antagonist Gaston (he also has the pipes too) and his easily recognizable companion LeFou (played here by Matthew Johnston) has all the timing in place, even if you can’t help but compare him to Josh Gad from the movie earlier in the year.
Everyone has solid stage presence, which is crucial to a narrative arc that, literally, everyone knows like the back of their hand. It’s not a matter of “oh we know the story and how it’s going to end” what matters is how we get there. And the lifelike projections, swift scene changes, and a transformation sequence you have to see to believe, set’s this show up for an incredible run. Sadly, I’m afraid, for as much praise as I give this production, the entire run, I’ve been told, is sold out. Which is no surprise considering the source material, thus resulting in the addition of a Thursday performance to the usual schedule.
There's so much good in this show that, the only real thing setting this production back, aside from the normal sound miscues accustomed to opening night performances, is the fact the movie was just released this past March to Blockbuster success. You could ask the question: was it too soon? That’s not to say this production isn’t very much it’s own thing, because it is, and I could make the case that Alexander is the epitome of what every Beast should have: range, emotional vulnerability, and a roar like no other. In my eyes, he’s the best Beast I’ve probably ever seen. And as I mentioned earlier Fandrey is winning as the plucky heroine of our story, and Blackburn and Yuen are a dream team.
Which leads us back to the one who brought it all together, Smith, who has done the challenging task of delivering on the name. When you look around at the blocking and the costuming (which Pam Krage owns) you understand why it’s not done that often. It’s hard.
But this cast and crew, who've worked endlessly, putting in thousands upon thousands of hours of work, just made it look easy.
IF YOU GO:
“Beauty and The Beast” continues it’s run this weekend with an additional performance added Thursday September 28th at 7:30pm. The rest of the run is as follows: Friday Sep 29th at 7:30 p.m. Saturday Sep 30th at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday October 1st at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $15-$30.
For more info (especially on availability of tickets) you can call the Box Office at 517-264-7469 or visit www.croswell.org.