VALDOSTA — Peach State Summer Theatre creates an enchanted evening with its stage production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Show director Jacque Wheeler keeps the show light and fun but never forgets the passion beneath the surface in this musical story of how a young beauty’s love can lift the curse of a prince turned into a beast.
Wheeler is like a fairy godmother casting a spell upon the PSST! cast and production. One can imagine the hard work that went into the grueling schedule of bringing this show to life in less than two weeks of rehearsal, but the performance looks as graceful and effortless as magic.
Choreographer Jason Celaya continues the sorcery through the show’s dance moves, especially in big, show-stopping production numbers such as “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest.” Christen Orr’s fight choreography is similarly flawless.
They are joined in the spell binding by Ruth A. Brandvik’s sets, Genny Wynn-Muncy’s lighting, Zach Cramer’s sound, and the majestic live orchestra, led by Joe Mason, that is out of sight but always on the mind working seamlessly with the performers on the stage.
The cast dazzles. A whirling combination of talent that it is hard to know where to start.
John Payonk is a big-voiced joy as Maurice. Joshua Barcol literally does flips as Lefou. Heather McCall, Sarah Wildes Arnett and Ashlee Dunston charm as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Babette and Mrs. Potts. John Laurent Dean and Hudson Hardesty Hsu are cute alternating as Chip.
Jonathan Brian Furedy creates a self-centered comedy as Gaston, the show’s wonderful combination of leading man character as comic foil and bad guy. Furedy makes bicep-flexing ego fun.
Olin Davidson and Alejandro Gutierrez work marvels as Lumiere and Cogsworth. In combinations of heavy makeup and heavy costuming as each servant becomes a candelabra and a clock respectively, Davidson and Gutierrez work together as a comedy team. They sing. They dance. They make audiences laugh.
The biggest ovation goes to Megan Wheeler and Peyton Crim as the title characters.
Megan Wheeler, Jacque Wheeler’s daughter, stars in a virtuoso performance. She has played numerous characters in past PSST! seasons. Each time, she gives a wonderful performance. Each time, she returns to PSST! with a more beautiful and powerful voice and a stronger stage presence. As Belle, she is spot on at every turn, in every costume, on every note.
Crim has the deep, pitch-perfect voice and the physical presence to make the Beast a credible being along with the depth and versatility to make the character at turns intimidating, funny, frightening, soulful, and vulnerable. An unforgettable performance.
The supporting cast is unstoppable, transforming from enchanted objects to townspeople.
The opening night performance had a few noticeable technical flaws: a tardy village backdrop lingering into a forest scene, a beastly roar that did not match beastly choreography, a door nearly straddling Gaston on an early rising threshold. These flaws have likely been ironed out in subsequent performances and they are part of the beauty and the beast of a live show. The cast never batted an eye; they adapted and kept with the mantra of the show must go on.
The PSST! production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is an enchanting time at the theatre.
The review is based on the June 3 opening night performance.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” continues 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday, then in rotating repertory through mid July, Sawyer Theatre, Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Baytree. Additional PSST! shows open in coming weeks: “Ring of Fire” opens June 17; “Nice Work If You Can Get It” opens June 24. More information: Visit www.valdosta.edu/psst.