Theatre Review by Manning Harris – “Beauty and the Beast”
December 09, 2008
It’s always an occasion to rejoicify (as Glinda in “Wicked” would say) when a wonderful new theatre space opens in Atlanta, and that is what has happened with Atlanta Lyric Theatre in their new home: the historic 1935 Strand Theatre in Marietta has been transformed into a beautiful live theatre, thanks to some benevolent theatre gods (and generous donors). It would be well worth a visit even if it were not currently hosting a sparkling new production of “Beauty and the Beast” (through December 21), just in time for the holidays. Even dyed-in-the-wool intowners (such as myself—and please note our paper’s name!) need to make the easy trek up I-75 to this lovely Marietta “on the square” theatre. (Look—if Barbra Streisand zipped up to Marietta’s square to shop two years ago, you can too—and she didn’t have this totally charming musical play to see.)
On with the show: I have known Artistic Director and General Manager Brandt Blocker was the real deal ever since I saw his stunning “Peter Pan” at the Ferst Theatre (at GA Tech) some time back. Here he co-directs (with Paul Holly) and is the music director; he also conducts the orchestra. “Beauty and the Beast,” the 1991 Disney film, became a long-running hit on Broadway and has since become a magnetic draw for audiences of all ages. You probably know the story: a lovely girl (Belle, Stephanie Dorfman) lives a quiet life with her lovably eccentric father Maurice (Steve Hornibrook), but Belle has caught the eye of the handsome but egocentric Gaston (Bradley Bergeron), who has difficulty taking “no” for an answer. Maurice wanders into a forest where he comes upon an enchanted castle ruled by a terrifying “Beast” (Matthew Kacergis), who was once a handsome prince, but was turned by magic into an ungainly beast. Maurice is captured; it’s up to Belle to rescue her father. Can she do it? Will she be repulsed by the Beast (who secretly harbors a great romantic sadness—as well as a superb singing voice)? Or will the brawny, selfish Gaston triumph over all? Well, now, if you don’t know—or even if you do—you must see this “Beauty.” Mr. Bergeron, by the way, makes a convincing, manly Gaston.
The cast is outstanding. The delightful denizens of the castle are alone worth the price of admission: Mrs. Potts (Mary Welch Rogers); Cogsworth (Robert Wayne, in a fine comic performance); Lumiere (Jeff McKerley) and Madame de la Grande Bouche (Kim Bowers-Rheay) are irresistible, as are Babette (Natalie Barrow) and Chip (Ben Wilson). These characters’ costumes are delicious. Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou (Brett Parker) shows quite a flair for physical comedy. The entire cast is focused, and oh yes, they can dance (choreography, Jen MacQueen)!
Ms. Dorfman has charm, beauty, and a lovely voice. Mr. Kacergis’ Beast is magnificent: This young man (21), previously reported on in these pages, continues to grow as a total performer; and his voice is truly a great gift. The only problem with “Beauty” is that this Beast doesn’t get to sing enough; but when he does, it’s goose bump time. By the way, the amplification in the theatre is almost too good; singers with big voices tend to overpower the microphone; perhaps the sound could be turned down just a tad.
This delightful show, which lends itself surprisingly well as a holiday offering, runs through December 21. Head for the Strand Theatre in Marietta.