When the magic of Disney meets the oft-spoken-of magic of Park Playhouse, the combination is dazzling. Park Playhouse in Albany's Washington Park opened its 18th season with the now-classic musical, Beauty and the Beast. The Alan Menken/Howard Ashman /Tim Rice music and lyrics combined with Linda Woolerton's book bring the stories of looking beyond the surface, and love conquers all, to life on the stage at the boathouse.
Ven Borromeo, Park Playhouse producer, doubles up as scenic designer. His sets, coupled with June Wolfe's costume designs, mix exactly the right amount of fairy tale and realism in this tale of a castle's population bewitched into household objects, and their handsome master turned into an ugly beast. Gary Castler's costumes for the enchanted objects hit the line but never cross over it to the absurd, if in fact you believe that clocks, candlesticks, teapots and corkscrews can sing and dance.
But enough of the technical; this show is about the performers who bring this fable to life. Lia Sumerano as Belle, the young lady who lives with her head in a book and around whom the tale revolves, is totally captivating. Her looks and charm leap off the stage. She is engaging, innocent and wise. Her voice carries us through her numbers much like the summer breeze in the park, refreshing, on target and always welcome when it appears.
Shawn Morgan as the overly muscled Gaston is perfectly cast. Physically, he fits the bill, never afraid to mug shamelessly. His athletic prowess shines through and his rich bass voice fills the stage. John Anthony Lopez brings The Beast alive with just the right touch of self -loathing and pity, as well as the inner searching to bring his heart of gold out of a deep freeze. He moves around the stage, leaping and jumping with great elegance, making it apparent that there is more to him then a deformed ogre.