By Melissa Shaw
If you have Beauty and The Beast fans in your house, get to Beverly, where they can experience -- live -- a captivating production of the Broadway musical, running now through July 30 at Bill Hanney's North Shore Music Theatre.
The original production debuted on Broadway in 1994, ran for 13 years, and was the first in what has become a series of Disney animated classics adapted for the stage ("Aladdin" and "The Lion King" are on Broadway right now, and "Frozen" is in development).
Fans of the 1991 animated classic, the Broadway show, and even this year's smash live-action movie will not be disappointed with the NSMT production. NSMT is a small theatre, but its production value is big, big, big: beautiful sets, props, special effects, and gorgeous costumes. The staging is well adapted to the venue, with performers using any and all space in impressive, unexpected ways.
In the title role, Rose Hemingway is a winsome Belle -- bright and bold as the independent spitfire who loves a good book. Her voice was clear and soaring throughout the night, especially in the longing ballad "Home." Her counterpart, Stephen Cerf, roared -- in a good way -- as the slowly reformed Beast. In what could be a one-note role, Cerf brought a lot of heart and sympathy to the transfigured prince, especially in the stirring Act1 closer, "If I Can't Love Her." Preening pompadour Gaston, Taylor Crousore, was a ton of fun as the muscled egomaniac. He was a bit undersized physically for what is supposed to be a massive man, but Crousore's big personality and an equally large set of pipes made up for the physical mismatch.
[caption id="attachment_9185" align="alignleft" width="200"] Phillip Taratula (Cogsworth) and Benjamin Howes (Lumiere) delight. Photos (C) Paul Lyden[/caption]
The lead trio was rounded out by a top-flight supporting cast, particularly comedic counterpoints Benjamin Howes (Lumiere) and Phillip Taratula (Cogsworth). Their timing and interplay was perfect, and the audience was along for their ride with them from the moment they hit the stage ("Be Our Guest" is a major highlight). As Gaston's sniveling, sycophantic sidekick Lefou, Andrew Kruep got a workout thanks to his adept physical comedy, acrobatics, and pratfalls. And Broadway veteran Christiane Noll was simply perfect as serene castle den mother Mrs. Potts. Her voice is gorgeous, and listening to her sing the famous title track while the Belle and Beast dance is alone worth the price of admission.
If you've never experienced theatre in the round (where the audience sits around the stage rather than in front of it), it's a treat. The NSMT is intimate -- there's not a bad seat in the house. And because the actors often use the aisles to access the stage, it brings the action even closer. Especially with this production, children will be captivated by the sight of beloved characters within arm's reach in the aisle perhaps just as much as they will be with the action onstage.
In addition to an excellent production, a major draw for families is the price. Professional-level live theatre is expensive, especially for a family. At NSMT, adult tickets are far below Boston prices (with no dip in quality and truly no bad seats), and children's tickets are half-off for all shows. Bottom line: Your family can enjoy a Broadway-level show at affordable prices -- something almost as magical as the show itself.
There is nothing like live theatre to entertain, enchant, and inspire an audience. NSMT's awesome, affordable Beauty and The Beast will make families view a tale as old as time in a whole new way. It is a summer treat not to be missed.
Beauty and The Beast, North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd., Beverly. Through July 30, tickets start at $57; kids 18 and under save 50% at all performances. 978-232-7200.