By Bill Hirschman
When you read that a show is meant “for the whole family,” especially when it’s a fairy tale-based fable, you can be forgiven for wanting to drop the kids off at the ticket booth and head for an early dinner – especially when it’s a show you’ve seen five, six, seven times already like Beauty and the Beast.
But while the Broadway Palm production now at Lauderhill Performing Arts Center will elicit giggles from the kids in the audience, this local edition is a surprisingly satisfying evening even for the adults thanks to some fine voices, a live band caressing the score and a cast that is fully invested in the work – not simply overacting for the less demanding children.
To be honest, we’ve seen this so many times locally and on tour with budgets that add a zero to the expense-side of the balance sheet. So the magic that the material is capable of never quite materialized for this critic.
But you won’t be looking at your watch. You may even be captivated when Shannon Connolly’s Mrs. Potts delivers one of most tender and moving renditions of the title song we’ve heard, or when James Arthur Douglas melts the house down with his expressive belt on the Beast’s first act clos er “If I Can’t Love Her.” Or when Rebecca René Kelley’s Belle nails the 11 o’clock American Idol female empowerment number “A Change In Me.” Or Eytan Deray’s uber-sycophant LeFou leading the ensemble in a rollicking paean to his boss Gaston.
It helps that several members of the troupe including director/choreographer Amy Marie McCleary have done the show before, including for the Broadway Palm’s parent company Prather Productions, based in Fort Myers and with a third theater in Pennsylvania plus a touring arm that presented a terrific Once last year in Lauderhill. In fact, the impressive costumes, wigs and scenery were built for the company’s earlier productions of this piece.
But the production is local as part of the Prather’s bid to make the Lauderhill venue their newest outpost. The productions has 26 cast members plus a five-member band that includes brass, reeds, percussion with cymbals crashing at every crescendo and an electric piano providing the other 17 sampled instruments.
Among those memorable in the cast are Robert Ayala as the preening Gaston, Travis R. Brown as supple Lumiere, Jennifer Fain as the coquettish Babette, Coleen Pagano as Madame de la Grande Bouche with a glorious operatic soprano and Peter Librach, whose inventor father is not as dotty as others have made the role and therefore makes Belle’s parent a warmer, more touching character.
A shout out is due the sound folks: Although they were still fine-tuning cues and feedback, 95 percent of the time the singers and the orchestra were in perfect balance and had a powerful presence, especially when the entire ensemble was singing.
Great theater, Beauty and the Beast will never be. But the themes of having someone see the virtues inside your exterior, the redemptive power of love, the ability to change and having seemingly irreconcilable people find common ground resonate as intensely today as when the animated film bowed in 1991.
And the Broadway Palm company, which also produced West Side Story and Kinky Boots locally this season, is developing a reputation for reasonably solid work worth a look.
Beauty and the Beast through March 8 from Broadway Palm performing at Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, 3800 NW 11th Place in the Central Broward Regional Park. Performances 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Runs 2 hours 30 minutes including one intermission. Tickets are $35-$55. For tickets and more information, call 954-777-2055 or https://lpacfl.com.