Reviewed by Will Stackman
To close their 38th season, the Reagle Players mounted a full-scale production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." This adaptation of an animated film has had several local productions in the past two years, from North Shore's arena version to various community and school attempts. As usual, Reagle's show is an ambitious effort featuring a massive set and full orchestra, an experienced cast, two level wagons and impressive costumes, some hired from North Shore's production. The effect is generally impressive, though Michael Jarrett's lighting design, which features a quartet of moving instruments seems too dark at critical moments and would benefit from integral lighting on the set wagons, which might be too complicated even for Reagle's large and experienced crew. The family audiences there for the fable didn't seem to mind, however.
As usual voices and talents were impressive, as they need to be, since this show is closer to a comic operetta than the traditional musical comedy. Reagle's "resident" Broadway star, IRNE winner Sarah Pfisterer was a heartfelt Belle, while Fred Inkley's signature Beast is heartbreaking with a surprising comic side. Edward Watts, seen last month in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" got a workout as Gaston with a baritone voice to match his impressive biceps. Among the local favorites, Reagle stalwart Harold "Jerry" Walker played Belle's father Maurice while newcomer Paul Giragos, last seen as Houdini in the New Rep's "Ragtime," displayed his abilities as a physical comedian being knocked about playing Lefou, Gaston's much-abused sidekick.
As the enchanted objects, Beth Gotha, seen on various local professional stages played Mrs. Potts with Sam Blumenfeld as her son Chip, the teacup. Another Reagle veteran, Roy Earley played Cogsworth the clock. Recent B.C. grad M. Zach Bubolo showed promise as the candlestick Lumiere, though a bit young for the part, while community theatre regular Melissa Beauregard vamped as Babette the coy feather duster. NEC opera grad Rachelle Riehl warbled Madame de la Grande Bouche, the opera singing vanity. Among the dancers, Kia Chao was outstanding as the acrobatic Rug. The total effect was probably closer to an English panto than anything else in the current American musical theatre.
The creative staff was led by director Kate Swan, a veteran of the original show and associate choreographer for various tours. The recreated choreography is managed by Reagle's new associate producer, IRNE winner Eileen Grace, whose winter job is with Radio City Music Hall. Through the efforts of these two, a cast of about fifty--including students from Reagle's youth program--provided an impressive show. Reagle's staff music director, IRNE winner Paul S. Katz was in charge of the ensemble with conductor Jeffrey P. Leonard got an impressive sound as usual from his full professional pit. The costumes are from Terry Schwab at the Cumberland County Playhouse with additional pieces--notably for "Be Our Guest" from Miguel Angel Huidor at NSMT.
Their "Beauty and the Beast" was an impressive finale to Reagle's summer season, though definitely a family show. One might wish for just a bit more content and real feeling amidst the spectacle but this Disney version has its own merits, especially when the cartoon elements are played down. If anything needs to be better integrated, it's the narrated dumbshow which sets up the story, The voice-over was handled by Scott Wahle, a local T.V. newsman who appeared as Will Rogers' earlier in the season. As the economics of production become tighter, one wonder's how Reagle will maintain this level, but with community support--and year-round variety shows--the company should be ready to shine again next summer.