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Review: Omaha Community Playhouse triumphs with lavish 'Beauty and the Beast'

Review: Omaha Community Playhouse triumphs with lavish 'Beauty and the Beast'

If you’re not hooked from the first note of the overture, you will be by the end of the first song.

“Beauty and the Beast” is that kind of show, especially in the hands of director Kimberly Faith Hickman and her cast at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

It’s not an easy musical to pull off. It requires lavish, elaborate costumes; sets depicting several locations; winsome lead actors with standout voices (including a man who can portray a beast who’s both scary and endearing) and others who can play inanimate objects; and the special effects you’d expect from a fairy-tale plot.

Hickman’s group conquered the challenge, even accounting for some wrinkles. The Playhouse’s first Disney musical is obviously a labor of love.

That love was clear on the awed faces of the lucky kids who were part of a show they’ve probably seen a hundred times on DVD. It was in the grins of singing and dancing adults who knew some of the small children sitting rapt in the audience. It was evident in the vividly colored and carefully constructed sets — the Beast’s dank castle, shops in the town heroine Belle decries as “provincial,” a foggy and threatening forest — and in little sound-design touches such as echoes in the castle.

And the love shines through in the unbelievable costumes: A billowing “teapot” dress with a cap and a base, a character dressed as an ornate chest of drawers and another as a French provincial-style clock, not to mention Belle’s pretty and poofy yellow gown, which had little girls (many dressed as princesses) swooning.

The sum of it all was one of the most visually stunning shows I’ve seen at the Playhouse.

Performances were special, too. Leanne Hill Carlson played the feisty yet gentle Belle with charm, and Tim Vallier injected vulnerability and wistfulness into the Beast despite the character’s growls and snarls. If you’ve ever experienced the excitement and apprehension of a new relationship, you’ll relate to the scenes in which Belle and the Beast fall in love.

Both also have wonderful voices that are well-suited to their roles.

Hickman found lots of talent for other familiar roles: Ryan Pivonka was comically goofy as Gaston, the egotistical buffoon who wants Belle (his trademark smirk was spot-on); Dawn Buller-Kirke used her beautiful operatic soprano to full advantage as Mrs. Potts, who became a teapot with the same curse that turned the Prince into the Beast; Steve Krambeck as Lumière and Melissa King as Babette, a candelabra and duster, respectively; and Joey Galda as the loud and confident Madame de la Grande Bouche (an inspired casting choice).

Music, too, was familiar if you’ve seen the movies — my favorite was the cast’s exuberant “Be Our Guest.” When they danced in the aisles, their joy was infectious (prompting an extended, midshow ovation) And until I checked out the program, I thought music director Jim Boggess’ big-sounding orchestra had more than just eight pieces.

Georgiann Regan, Travis Halsey and Amanda Fehlner created those gorgeous costumes, Jim Othuse designed the versatile set and John Gibilisco was responsible for sound effects.

On preview night, a couple of set changes were a little balky and noisy, but they didn’t harm pacing. More distracting were lighting issues: The candles on Lumière’s costume were hit or miss, for instance, and I found myself wondering whether they would work at key points.

Those problems are easily fixable, and I doubt whether they even registered with the starry-eyed kids at Thursday night’s preview, or, more likely, the adults they were with. This show should be a hit with all ages.

elizabeth.freeman@owh.com, 402-444-1267

Beauty and the Beast

Where: Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St.

When: through June 25

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays (2 p.m. Saturday matinees added on June 17 and 24)

Tickets: $42 adults, $25 students ($32 adults, $20 students on Wednesdays)

Information: omahaplayhouse.com or 402-553-0800

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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