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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 11.24.10

 

One Enchanted Evening

Or matinée, at Cottage Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast

by Anna Grace

Belle (Cate Wolfenbarger) and Lefou (Cody Mendonca)

Two 5-year-old girls dressed in the fanciest gowns their closets can muster bustle importantly into the Cottage Theatre. As guest reviewers they interrogate the first man they see in costume, and are then ushered into their excellent seats. While Beauty and the Beast is Sofie’s favorite Disney story ever-of-all-times, Margaret is unfamiliar with the work. Both have unreasonably high expectations. Neither is disappointed.

How could they be? This show has singing silverware, dancing candlesticks and the most adorable chipped teacup ever seen. If you are the only other person in town unfamiliar with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, it’s about a castle under a curse. A disdainful, handsome prince refuses shelter to an old woman when he is young, and thus is turned into a monster. All his servants become more and more like the household item they most closely resemble in personality. Their only hope is that the beast can fall in love, and be loved in return, but that’s not likely. And then Belle arrives … 

Cate Wolfenbarger is perfectly dreamy as Belle. She has a beautiful voice, acts delightfully quirky and wears costumes so beautiful you’ll wish you were a kid and could get away with donning cheap knock-offs of them every Saturday for the foreseeable future.

“I like Gaston,” Sofie says several times. “How is it he can be so much like the cartoon?” How indeed? George Comstock’s Gaston looks, moves and sounds exactly like the animated Disney character. It is a little uncanny. Phillip Dempsey also earns admiration for his emotionally wounded Beast, which one adolescent audience member accused him of playing more sympathetically than is usual. Margaret likes the swordfighting.

This adult reviewer was totally enchanted with the servants/household items. The tightly wound steward Cogsworth (Miriam Major) is turning into a clock. A vain, former opera star (Samantha White) has talked about her wardrobe so much she becomes one. The flirtatious butler Lumiere (Michael Watkins) morphs into a dapper candlestick. All are fabulous and magical as they dance and sing and fret about their worsening conditions.

The staging of this production is a massive undertaking. The set, designed by Fe02, shifts and reconfigures itself effortlessly, like a fairytale. Costumes and creatures are wonderful. Director Peg Major marshals the forces of some 90+ volunteers to bring this show to life, and she does it very well.

My 5-year-old patrons were a touch young for this production; I’d say 6 or 7 is probably a better starting age for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The play runs 2.5 hours and does get a little scary for young ones. Like a good mom, I packed snacks. Like a normal mom, I forgot them in the car, making the final scenes difficult for rumbling tummies and everyone seated near them. Hunger quickly dissipated, though, when after the curtain call the girls were allowed to go on stage and meet Belle! Gracious and gorgeous, Wolfenbarger was swarmed with similarly attired children while kindly ensemble members kept them all from falling into the orchestra pit.

But what if you don’t like a musical with a moral that could be construed as, “Love a brutish man enough, and he will turn good”? Most of us have felt beastly and incapable of love at one time or another, and this is a very human story of letting go and opening up, and ultimately learning to love.

In the end, my two guest critics and I were completely entertained. Romance, adventure, swordfights and talking teapots all add up to magic in Cottage Grove.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast runs through Dec. 19 at the Cottage Theatre in Cottage Grove. Tix — and get them soon; several performances have already sold out! — at cottagetheatre.org or 541-942-8001.