By Rindi White
Anchorage Daily News
WASILLA – There’s a reason Valley Performing Arts sold out 18 performances of its newest show, “Beauty and the Beast.”
It’s good. It’s really good.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a big, beautiful Disney production, replete with fantastic costumes, a wonderful set and a large cast. Forty-two people share the stage and another 10 are in the orchestra.
The story is a Disney classic, with heroine Belle, a bookish girl with an inventor father, being pursued by the French village’s most macho he-man, Gaston. Belle rebuffs Gaston and accidentally falls into the hands of Beast, a prince put under a spell by a lesson-teaching hag.
Well-written, the play is far from serious and even pokes fun at itself. It’s peppered with puns and silly asides that the actors dish out with excellent timing and a wink here and there to the audience.
Director Larry Bottjen said more than half the cast is new to the VPA stage, including a third of the leading characters. They do a tremendous job and it looks like they have fun doing it.
Appropriately, Belle and the Beast are played by real-life husband and wife Laura and Andy Arnold. Laura Arnold is in most scenes, sings in most songs and otherwise does a lot of work in the show. This is her fourth VPA show and she proves that she’s more than up to the task. She has a beautiful singing voice and the charming good looks befitting a Disney heroine.
Garry Forrester, as the egotistical Gaston, injects a lot of fun into the performance. Forrester has a Jim Carey-like way of emphasizing his words with absurd facial expressions and twinkling eyes that leaves the audience in giggles. Michael Bailar plays his foolish sidekick, Lefou. The two deliver several sidesplitting comic routines, filled with puns and Three Stooges-esque physical comedy.
Dave Nufer, Ted Carney and Sarah Hendricks play talking clock, candlestick and teapot. These three supporting characters are strong enough to lead the show on their own. Carney and Hendricks have proven wonderful assets in every performance they’ve been in. Nufer, a VPA first-timer, does more than keep up with these seasoned performers. Hopefully he’ll become a regular face on the VPA stage.
An excellent cast, ingenious costuming and an impressive and well-crafted set that makes the small Machetanz Theatere stage seem bigger than possible make this performance one of Valley Performing Arts’ best yet. Anyone lucky enough to be holding tickets can look forward to a wonderful evening.
“Beauty and the Beast” just wrapped up its run on Broadway. Director Larry Bottjen said Disney uncharacteristically released the play for other theaters to use before the Broadway show wrapped. Nabbing it proved a good move for Valley Performing Arts.
“This is the biggest explosion of ticket sales we ever had,” Bottjen said.
If you go: "Beauty and the Beast" by Valley Performing Arts, is sold out for the rest of its run through March 4. For information about possible tickets, call 907-373-0195.