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Pollard's 'Beauty and the Beast' makes for bountiful musical

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Admittedly, I approached the Pollard Theatre with trepidation to review "Beauty and the Beast," a big, glitzy, costume- and prop-intensive stage adaptation of the Disney animated musical.

Is "Beauty and the Beast" the right type of show for the cozy Pollard Theatre, with its sardine can of an orchestra pit? Can this musical be done without a large stage and an even larger budget? The answer is yes, it can, and on its own modest terms, the Pollard production was successful.

The production succeeds not because director Timothy Stewart has deconstructed the show and found something new and original, and staged it in some innovative and revealing way. No, the production succeeds because Stewart, aided by W. Jerome Stevenson's effective lighting design, found a way to stage "Beauty" without making it seem unacceptably scaled-down. A musical analogy would be a Beethoven symphony arranged for piano, four hands. It has most of the content, but lacks the color and spectacle that is written into the show and would be seen in a more elaborate production.

CORPORATE SLICKNESS
The show possesses the corporate slickness characteristic of all things Disney. "Be Our Guest," marred by sound problems at the reviewed performance, will still be running through your head the day after you see the show. Amplification glitches happen too often in Pollard productions.

In case you haven't seen any version of this fairy tale, the story concerns Belle, who is held captive by the Beast in an enchanted castle, where the servants have been turned into animated inanimate objects. But Belle "? who is considered strange in her village, because she spends most of her time reading books, which, unlike real life, have happy endings "? and the Beast have much in common: They are outcasts.

Jake DeTommaso gives a winning performance as the Beast. This is a New Age beast "? one with a (broken) heart of gold, if you will. Susan Riley as Belle has a sweet, if not overly powerful voice. But the Beast is not the reason Belle is a damsel in distress. She and her dotty father, Maurice (Ben Hall), suffer from the attention of her vain cad of a suitor, Gaston, played by Kurt Leftwich, whose virile baritone voice is at odds with what seems to be his intentionally stilted acting.

The production is somewhat uneven. That wedged-in orchestra, conducted by Ken Adams, is the best I've ever heard at the Pollard. Michael James' costumes are colorful and detailed. James A. Hughes' set design is adequate, and Hui Cha Poos' choreography is wince-inducing.

The show benefits from strong performances by the supporting cast, led by Jodi Nestander as Mrs. Potts, whose rendition of the title song is a nice moment. Michael James as Lumiere, the talking candelabrum, and Lance Overdorff as Cogsworth, the talking clock, are notable, as is Jacob Chancellor, playing a fright-wigged Le Fou. 

"?Larry Laneer

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