“Beauty And The Beast” Sprinkles Christmas Magic On Audiences Through Dec. 30

Disney’s Musical Tale Warms The Hearts Of Young And Old

Sunday, December 17, 2017 - by Andrew Clark

Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast” opened Dec. 8 to a sold out audience rife with anticipation. For weeks, CTC devotees had waited with bated breath to behold the production, but most especially to see Sarah Miecielica’s magical set design.

Miecielica’s set did not disappoint audiences with its charming portrayal of Belle’s French village or its treacherous telling of the dark wood where Belle’s father, Maurice, loses his way and unwittingly stumbles upon The Beast’s castle. And, man, what a castle it is! Miecielica’s team has fancied a façade in three pieces that offers the illusion of a limestone chateau replete with a double staircase and a balcony of sorts that director R. Scott Dunlap took full advantage of in his skillful stage blocking. The three imposing pieces effortlessly break apart and are wheeled off stage several times during the show only to be seamlessly reassembled as the anchor vignette in the production.

“Beauty and The Beast” is the narrative of Belle, a bookish village girl who is possessed of great beauty, and whose father has become the prisoner of The Beast, a French nobleman whose arrogance long ago draped a pall of darkness over his house, transforming him into a repugnant beast, and rendering the members of his household inhuman, suspended in a purgatory of sorts where they physically devolve into domestic objects such as tea pots, candelabrum, spoons, forks, knives and the like.

Belle braves the dark wood and its wolves only to find her father languishing as a prisoner in The Beast’s castle. Belle negotiates a deal that frees her father, but dooms her to a lifetime locked within the walls of The Beast’s castle. Later the tides change and a full blown Disney love story ensues.

Jordan Otis not only portrayed Belle on stage, but she became Belle in a way that Chattanooga theatre-goers rarely see locally. Her singing voice is of professional quality, strong, clear, well balanced and never forced. Physically, she is young, beautiful and fits the part in every way.

Scott Shaw, who never disappoints audiences at CTC, is an exemplary Beast, though Disney’s telling of the story includes excessive brooding on the Beast’s behalf, which is tedious for a Christmas show.

The Beast’s brooding is foiled by the comic relief of the castle’s hybrid human objects such as Lumiere the candelabra portrayed hilariously by Jason Russell; Mrs. Potts the teapot portrayed by Deb Meeks; Cogsworth the clock portrayed by Jesse Wilyat; Babette the feather duster portrayed masterfully by Alexis Newson; and Madame de la Grande Bouche the wardrobe portrayed by Jennifer Major who, too, has a professional quality singing voice and whose presence brought an air of New York to the CTC stage.

CTC veteran Rodney Strong was marvelous as Belle’s somewhat hapless yet tender father, and the many members of the CTC’s Youth Theatre Ensemble were marvelous with Alex Champion one of the standouts as Chip.

But, there is one breakout performance in this show and it’s undeniably James Cunha’s portrayal of Gaston. This theatre-goer had never heard of Mr. Cunha, a large, handsome, expressive actor with honest-to-goodness pipes. Simply put: this guy can flat-out sing, and this guy can sure enough act! And, what’s most impressive is that he is an 18-year-old college freshman who possesses a 30-year-old actor’s poise and technical discipline. Cunha owns this role, and he makes you like Gaston, even though you aren’t supposed to. Cunha does his job and he does it very well.

The holiday twist to this production of “Beauty and The Beast” is the finale musical number “As Long As There’s Christmas,” which brought the crowd to their feet, and spread Christmas spirit to the sold-out audience.

“Beauty and The Beast” runs through Dec. 30. 

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