Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s Beauty and the Beast may not be the perfect Christmas pantomime.
Purists might fault it because there is no musical number for the dame (the excellent Robert Newcombe), no crossed-dressed principal ‘boy,’ and few of the comedy set pieces that have typified – some might say weighed-down – the traditional panto since the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Those familiar only with the Disney version may miss the familiar score and the animators’ distinctive cast of supporting characters.
But these are petty quibbles. The fact is, with this panto-ized Beauty and the Beast, producer Reginald Pillay, artistic director Mike Balser and their large and talented cast and crew have done virtually everything right.
The result is a sure-footed, bang-up entertainment to usher in the Christmas season; one without wearying interludes or humour that misses the mark – or over-earnest actors who miss the point.
Beauty and the Beast is a show that works – albeit on different levels – for both the youngest and most sophisticated audience members. The script is bright and witty – with enough topicality to provoke genuine laughs – and Balser has a knack of choosing upbeat musical numbers, whether decades old or fairly current, that make for a consistent and entertaining score rather than the customary cobbled-together effort.
It’s notable too, because the comedy – from all players – is nuanced, and played with an understanding of character and timing, rather than being lobbed at the audience like so many tennis balls.
But the real heart of this show is that it retains the fable – and the moral – of Beauty and the Beast, and much of the special charm of the piece can be traced to the chemistry of the two young players who own the stage as the title leads.
Kaitlyn Yott, as spirited, independent village girl Belle, is a perky, vivacious bundle of energy who seems born to play musical comedy – an excellent singer and dancer and a strong, self-aware actor who makes the most of every line and reaction.
Sean Donnelly, as the Beast, who imprisons Belle in his castle only to find himself falling in love with her, matches Yott well on every point. A trained classical singer, he demonstrates he is more than capable in handling contemporary pop material. As an actor, he ably brings out all the pathos under the surface of the ill-tempered ‘beast’ and manages everything else – including romantic scenes, dancing and even the occasional comedy line, with a confidence and aplomb that would be impressive in a far more seasoned player.
The supporting cast is uniformly good. Newcombe scores as a vigourous dame, doing well by some good lines and business as Belle’s ‘look-alike’ sister Smelle; Paul Rowell is funny as Belle’s would-be suitor Antoine, nailing the archetypal egotistical jerk down to the last mannerism; while Adam Olgui is Broadway chutzpah personified as Antoine’s sycophantic stooge Pepe, his knock-`em-dead singing and dancing in their highlight number, You’re The Top, almost making up for a seriously underwritten role.
Barrie Mills has an agreeably droll touch that makes him endearing as Belle’s somewhat dotty dad Claude; grey-bearded Adrian Duncan is effective as a lachrymose Town Crier – and even more so in a surprisingly agile turn as a ‘rapper’ in the ensemble version of the Black-Eyed Peas’ Let’s Get It Started.
Cheery Samantha Andrews and mobile-featured comedic villainess Rosemary Forst play well as the representatives of good and evil, Fairy Goody Two Shoes and Fairy Bossy Boots, their first-class singing talents coming to the fore in a splendid duet, What Is This Feeling (lifted from the musical Wicked).
As Bossy Boots’ side-kick, Sneaker, accomplished clown Jeff Christiansen is consistently entertaining with his slick, trademark blend of goofy, nerdy characterization and magic tricks.
In the show’s only ‘tights’ role, Tammy Theis, as the Beast’s major-domo Pierre, plays with a nicely-judged comedic sense and timing; chorus member Clive Ramroop makes a positive contribution with physical comedy and eccentric dancing; young Elizabeth Olsson has a fine moment as a little girl who understands the Beast’s inner torment, while Megan Kroeger and Rebecca Peterson perform valiantly – and expressively – as panto horse Dobbin.
The rocking pit band, led by keyboardist Timothy Tucker, is well-nigh professional in caliber, while Carol Seitz provides her customary icing on the cake with choreography enthusiastically danced by a chorus that excels down to its most diminuitive member.
Linda O’ Donovan and Chris Roberts’ costumes are colourful and appropriate to the fairy tale setting; Leigh Burton and Margot Tache’s make-up (particularly for the Beast) is effective without being overdone; Maxine Howchin’s specialty props are great fun and the set design and scenic painting (Balser, Omanie Elias, Leigh Burton and crew) is suitably storybook, and unusually well-executed for a community show.
Beauty and the Beast continues at Surrey Arts Centre to Dec. 4. For more information, and tickets, call 604-501-5566 or visit http://tickets.surrey.ca