BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Riverside Center For The Performing Arts

by Jeremy Bustin Oct. 22, 2018

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts continues its season with the Disney classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. If audience response is any indication, this musical extravaganza is enjoyable for the entire family. Arrive early as the dinner theatre offers its audiences a variety of three-course meals that are appetizing and perfectly-themed for this production. Kids will also appreciate a meet and greet with some of Disney's most iconic characters following the performance.

Producing and Artistic Director, Patrick A'Hearn has assembled some fine vocal and acting talent for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. In A'Hearn's own words, Riverside's production is more about the relationships and heart at the center of the story. While it occasionally prospers on this front, the production lacks the magic and allure audiences of the theatrical classic have come to expect.

JD Madsen's pop-up storybook set is arty and functional but is often too capacious and impeding for the Riverside Center's limited space. There are numerous moments one could be distracted by loitering set pieces. Michael Jarrett's lighting is colorful and effective. Stephanie Wood's choreography works. While Kyna Chilcot's original costumes aren't showy, they go a long way in bringing to life the design of the 1991 animated film.

Under the musical direction of Leigh Delano, the large cast, supported by a full live orchestra, hits virtually every note. The show succeeds because of its spirited ensemble, full of rich voices, making chorale numbers like "Be Our Guest," "Human Again," and the "Finale" the standout moments of the production.

Kevin Cleary is well-cast as Gaston and offers vocal authenticity in songs like "Me" and "Gaston." Zachary Bullock is entertaining as his clownish sidekick, Lefou. Sherri Edelen's Mrs. Potts has sugary verve and shines during "Beauty and the Beast."

As Belle, Nicki Elledge plays well to the gentler sensibilities of the iconic Disney princess. A pleasing soprano, she is charming in numbers like "Belle" and "A Change in Me," but lacks the attitude and vocal dynamics for songs like "Is This Home?" to be as effective. Wyn Delano's Beast flips from menacing to sensitive with ease, making his spiraling progression from wild animal to temperate individual highly effective. The chemistry between Elledge and Delano is genuine and sweetens moments like "Something There" and the dance sequence in the title song.

It's when RJ Pavel's Lumiere and Alan Hoffman's Cogsworth are on stage that this production is most alive. The pair carries much of the performance with their brand of high energy and flair. Pavel shines as the debonair and showy candlestick, and Hoffman is delightful, with fantastic comic timing, as the enchanted clock.

While the production values leave something to be desired, DISNEY'S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a good bet for families of all ages and runs through November 25 at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts in Fredericksburg, Virginia.