Beauty and the Beast had the Disney magic

Beauty and the Beast had the Disney magic

I WANT TO BE completely transparent here. Going in, I wasn’t enthused for this show. I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of Elf Junior. Not to say it was a particularly bad show, it was just not for me in terms of the plot and lead characters. Thus, this show worried me.

I was anxious to see whether it would fall victim to the same tropes and inconsistency, and whether or not it would be a faithful and passionate adaptation worth anything. Now would be the time when I pretend to subvert your expectations, and by the same notion “surprise” you by telling you I thought it was delightful. But no, this will be a surprise to no one. If you missed out on this show, then I genuinely feel sadness for you.

Because, just to make it even more crystal clear, this show was incredible.

Simply put, Beauty and the Beast performed by the Dartmouth High Theatre Company was precisely as charming, magical, and ardent as you would hope a show could be.

This is undoubtedly the best theatrical show I have seen maybe ever, outside of a professional level. Even then, this is a step above many amateur shows in terms of performances, orchestration, and set design. It  was like a passion project with the execution of professionals.

And that’s what is so mesmerizing about theatre. It can enthrall you in its plot and characters, but you can simultaneously appreciate the more literal aspects such as the costume design and set work. It’s truly a marvel to fluctuate between these two perspectives, one appreciating the immersion and investment within the art, and the other, the investment and appreciation for what goes into the art. This aspect is fortunately never lost within the entire run time of the hoorah. In fact, it probably only gets more prevalent as the show progresses.

As an audience member, I tried my best to let myself become beguiled with this world and its narrative. But at the same time, I was forced to juggle the conflicting feelings of wanting to stay critical and attentive to the more production-based aspects. And while I never found a balance of these two artistic measurements, this was far from a bad thing.

With every proceeding scene, it just got better and better. With every song, I felt a greater connection to the characters and their motivations.

A lot of characterization is accomplished with musical numbers, making it the quintessential musical in terms of progression. The musical numbers and solos serve as much more than a genre-defining additive to theatre.  They exist to progress the plot, flesh out characters, and tell a much more lively tale in short bursts than its animated counterparts.

It’s truly something special to behold, especially considering I myself am far from a fan of musicals. That, and the incredible ensemble of talented woodwind, horn, percussion, and strings players in the orchestra pit beautifully compliments the astounding vocals of the cast.

Speaking of the cast, it is a tight and faithful one at that. Going down the line, Olivia Levasseur plays the leading role as Belle, and is spectacular. With the exception of quite possibly one other, she is indubitably the strongest performance in the entire show. Her stunning vocal capability sells you the role she is playing, and her acting chops fair just as harmoniously in her more quiet and personal scenes that she shares with the pivotal Beast, played by Kempton Campbell, and her adoring father, played by Iric Rogers.

These two certainly do a serviceable job, but in a sea of immense talent, they tend to be absorbed within the scenery of the other more interesting characters. This is no fault of their own. In fact, it’s more of a critique of the writing than anything.

Moreover, I think it’s a better gauge of the pristine quality of a production when it feels roles are almost competing for which wows you the most. It is a testament to the copious amount of talent within this cast.

I will say one thing though, as much as his lines, and part within the musical score gets swallowed up by the ocean of flair, the Beast’s presence is known with Campbell’s great physical acting and mannerisms, and the even more sublime makeup done by Abby Rabstejnek. He certainly looks the part and kills it in most aspects.

The supporting cast is equally as charitable, and every one of them deserves a heaping of praise for the life they gave to their characters. But maybe the best performance in the entire show, right next to Belle’s of course, is Gaston, played by Michael Cabral. The reason I attribute such high praise of his portrayal of Gaston is merely due to his dedication. While it’s very clear everyone working on this production tried their very best to stay fluid in their acting and never break character, (which they were entirely successful at doing) Cabral just completely embodies this character in every single facet. His mannerisms, his stature, his vocal range, and his acting ability just nails Gaston all so perfectly for me. He was an absolute joy to just watch. Never breaking character, always being the lovable villain that Gaston really is.

So, as for performances? Couldn’t ask for much better in terms of accuracy and tight-casting. Well done yet again, Dartmouth Theatre Company.

If I was to critique anything, it would be the writing and pacing at times.  Now, I’m not sure how much of this was adapted, or if it’s an entirely abridged and transformative work of scripting, but the writing is only good. This is only nominally upsetting when you take into consideration how much “Fantastic” is woven throughout the play.

The comedy didn’t do much for me, and neither did a lot of the non-song related scenes that focused on character development, but really, that’s a minor complaint.  As I have already mentioned, I’m still unsure how much of this is that of the original’s fault, the theatrical version, or the original writing. Maybe a culmination? Nothing much more to say. It’s far from bad, believe me. Just not terrific or anything. The pacing, too, can also be attributed to the nature of theatre. It’s hard to convey so much in such a small span of time, and to furthermore communicate the passage of time to the audience. Regardless, it is both a faithful and refreshing.

Likewise, my only other gripe lies with the Beast and Belle’s actual transition into love, but once again, that critique could lie with more of the source material, and not necessarily the writing or acting of our two lead roles. They did the very best with what they had, and mostly stuck the landing. It feels rushed, and a tad forced, but hey, the original isn’t that much better at establishing it either.

But for every small misstep, there is a leap of professionalism. The show is simply gorgeous. The murals, rich colors, and creative set design never felt out of place. It all felt so Disney-esque, all of it feeling it was straight ripped from the animated feature itself. It’s clear that through and through, every asset was carefully crafted, making the entire thing that much more visually appealing. Such as the “Be Your Guest,” or my personal favorite, “Gaston.” Every song and dance number, too, is made all the more exciting with the wonderful choreography and the amazing direction. I was simply never bored.

There are even further aspects I could sing the Dartmouth High Theatre Company’s praises for, but I would be mostly repeating myself. I just want to congratulate this team on a job well done. The show was flooring, in all the right ways. Great visuals, incredible performances, terrific set design, well executed songs, and tremendous directing talent on display by the ever talented Denis Lawrence Jr. and Shirley Byers. A job well done capturing a classic and making it all the more personal and charming.