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Review: Selma Arts Center’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ doesn’t enchant like it could

THEATER REVIEW

I give seven castles out of 10 to Selma Arts Center’s solid but not superior “Beauty and the Beast.” After so many local productions of this popular title over the years, the bar has been set quite high. Does that make me more critical? I guess it does. I have a lot to compare to.

Pictured above: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ continues through Oct. 5. Photo: Selma Arts Center

The quick verdict:

The singing and acting by the leading performers are mostly good. The direction and choreography are often satisfactory (and sometimes inspired). The scenic and lighting design are adequate but don’t dazzle. The costume design disappoints. So do the major ensemble production numbers such as “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest.”

I will dispense with the usual plot pleasantries — if you don’t know the basic outline of “Beauty and the Beast,” you must have spent the past several hundred years as an enchanted paperweight — and get to the specifics:

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Emma DenBesten is a strong, sure, graceful and feisty Belle, though this is not my favorite of her leading performances nor the strongest I’ve heard her voice. The same goes for Aaron Pierce, whose Beast is deftly played. (Pierce’s fine voice is not a perfect fit for the vocal demands of the Beast.) Adrian Oceguera is an affecting Maurice. My favorite of the Enchanted Objects is Antonio Olivera’s Lumiere, whose swagger and charisma really came through in the second act in the opening-weekend Saturday matinee I attended. By the end, Olivera delivered the heightened whimsy and hearty charm that this fantastical tale needs.


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Director Nicolette C. Andersen and the creative team can’t quite find the tone she wants for the production: Is it dark minimalism? Bright and bouncy cartoon? Classically sumptuous period piece? There are elements of all three. Still, some of the directing choices are inspired. One of the show’s best concepts is a corps of dancers (Annabelle Alvarez, Emmanuel Ceja, Phoebe Lorraine, Sarah Tsutsui and Wilma Tsutsui, who do a lovely job) that provides choreographic commentary on the action. The dances range from light-hearted and mystical to scary — at one point the dancers double as the wolves — and offer clever interpretive moments. Choreographer Michael C. Flores creates some beautiful interludes with these featured dancers. But other musical numbers fall flat. The all-important “Be My Guest” extravaganza does not measure up to other local productions I’ve seen in terms of the dancing, choreography or impact.

Some performances are uneven. Though Jessica Meredith delivers a lovely version of the title song, she doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in the role of Mrs. Potts. Garrison Bennett is a fun and rakish Gaston, but his vocals lack the raucous, booming belt the character needs. R.L. Preheim’s Cogsworth needs to find more of a blustery, butlery bent.

Selma Arts Center

R.L. Preheim, left, as Cogsworth, and Antonio Olivera, as Lumiere, in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’

The costume design (credited to Damen Pardo, Jeanette Derr, Kimberly Houston and Theo Hill) and wig design (by Garrett Ruiz) are the weakest links in the show. I appreciate the artistic choice of minimalist costumes for the Enchanted Objects, but some of them just don’t work. (Mrs. Potts, in particular, doesn’t offer much in the way of teapot infrastructure, and Babette’s relationship to a feather duster is rather hazy.) When the time for the big transformation scene comes, the audience impact is negligible. The poor Beast suffers the most. His towering, tangled, follicularly desperate wig is distracting. It’s like a cross between what you’d find on a troll doll and an ‘80s hair-band metal rocker.

Still, the songs in this show are tuneful, the visuals fairly robust and the cast enthusiastic. And Selma’s production is great for children who are first-timers to the live stage version. As always, I appreciate the vitality of what happens on the Selma stage. For those who have visited this Castle many times before, however, my take is that this “Beast,” however well-intentioned, remains in the middle of the pack.


Show info

‘Beauty and the Beast,’ a Selma Arts Center production. Continues through Oct. 5. Tickets are $21, $19 students and seniors, $17 children.


Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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