People – little girls, in particular – might come to Westchester Broadway Theatre’s production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” wanting to see Belle, the pretty bookworm who yearns to escape her provincial little town.
And they will.
There’s the blue dress, then the yellow dress. Look! She has a book just like in the video!
Rena Strober is excellent in the role, a sweet presence at the heart of this story of love, loss, sacrifice and redemption. Her voice is clear, pure and unadorned. In short, she’s every bit of what the part demands.
Joseph Mahowald as the Beast – an actor practically invisible under wigs and prosthetic makeup pieces – also sings loud and clear. His Beast runs the gamut of emotions, anger to confusion to vulnerability. Yes, this Beast has feelings.
Still, there’s not much singing for the Beast, which makes Mahowald’s Act 1 closer – “If I Can’t Love Her” – all the more of a revelation.
After covering a lot of ground – from his lair through the castle to a parapet on the castle’s roof in Peter Barbieri Jr.’s lovely set – he covers just as much emotional ground. And his final note, held for what seems an eternity, had a preview audience chatting in wonder through the intermission.
But the performances of the title characters are really just the start: Enchantment lies behind the thick glass doors of the dinner theater.
Director Richard Stafford’s cast is among the best in recent memory at Westchester Broadway.
Stacia Fernandez – Grizabella in WBT’s “Cats” a few seasons back – plays Mrs. Potts, who spends nearly the entire performance in an oversized teapot costume. Matthew Hemesath’s costumes are excellent.
Fernandez sings the Oscar-winning title song written by Westchester’s Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, the one made popular by Angela Lansbury in the animated feature.
Rick Hilsabeck, splendid as Herbie opposite Karen Mason in WBT’s “Gypsy” last year – plays Lumiere, the charming candelabra whose candles light up.
His partner in comedy is the wonderfully uptight and overwound William Hartery as Cogsworth the clock.
The pair mine every laugh possible.
Hilsabeck, Hartery and Fernandez make a potent team of advisers – like that trio that accompanied Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road.
Playing Belle’s father, Maurice, is David Titus, whose program bio notes that he toured last summer as the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.”
His Maurice – an eccentric, dreaming inventor – is part Cowardly Lion, part WCBS weatherman Ira Joe Fisher, part Curly of the Three Stooges and part Frank Morgan as the guard at the gate of the Emerald City. (Remember? “That’s a horse of a different color!”) And he’s all fun.
Then there’s Jonathan “Goose” Burgard as the pompous, posing Gaston – an actor with biceps like tree trunks and comic timing that makes him an audience favorite. In the second act, his character’s desperation at not getting what he wants – namely, Belle – transforms him into a sinister figure.
Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou, is played by the tumbling, pratfalling Adolpho Blaire, in a performance that should be underwritten by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. He is all over the place and makes his punishment at the hands of Gaston look so real we might worry for his safety in a show that’s set to run through Aug. 2.
Other standouts are Marguerite Willbanks as Madame de la Grande Bouche and Talana Seshaies as Babette – a vanity and a featherduster.
And three local boys – Michael Herwitz of Irvington, Alex Pasieka of Thornwood and Max Wright of Greenwich, Conn., – alternate in the role of Chip, Mrs. Potts’ boy-turned-teacup.
After all, this is an enchanted castle.
“Beauty and the Beast” was the first show to find its way from Disney’s video vault to Broadway, in a production that ran 5,461 performances and closed July 29, 2007, making way for “The Little Mermaid,” another Menken show, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
WBT’s production values are splendid.
Andrew Gmoser’s lights create just the right mood – from the scary scenes with wolves (not for those, say, under 6) to the fully lit production number “Be Our Guest” that positively stops the show.
There are even stage pyrotechnics that will have the little ones oohing and ahhing.
If there’s a young girl in your family or in your circle of friends or in your neighborhood, by all means treat her to this show. She, and you, won’t be disappointed.
You’ll be enchanted.
Photo by John Vecchiolla/Westchester Broadway Theatre: The Westchester Broadway Theatre presents Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” now through Aug. 2. Rena Strober as Belle and Joseph Mahowald as the Beast.
“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST”
Where: Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford.
When: Through Aug. 2. Thursdays through Sundays, with select Wednesday matinee and evening performances. Wednesday and Thursday matinees: lunch at 11: 30 and show at 1 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday evenings: dinner at 6 and show at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees: lunch at noon and show at 1:30 p.m. Sunday evenings: dinner at 5 and show at 7.
Tickets: $60 to $73, plus tax. (Discounts for children, students and senior citizens at selected performances.
THEIR CUPS OVERFLOWETH
For most of the show, their legs are unseen, but the three local boys who play “Chip” in “Beauty and the Beast” – Michael Herwitz of Irvington, Alex Pasieka of Thornwood and understudy Max Wright, shown left to right at right – have been treading the boards as actors quite for a while.
Michael was Nathan in WBT’s “The Full Monty” and a newsboy in WBT’s “Gypsy.” On Broadway, he was in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and “Dracula, The Musical.”
Alex, 9, a fourth-grader at Columbus Elementary in Thornwood, has played Winthrop in “The Music Man” and Gavroche in “Les Miserables.”
Max made his WBT debut last summer as a newsboy in “Gypsy.” He lives in Greenwich with his twin sister and three older siblings and is a 6th-grader at Rye Country Day School. Max also played Winthrop â€” in last spring’s production of “The Music Man” at Curtain Call Community Theater in Stamford, Conn.