ORANGE CITY, Iowa – You might consider “Beauty and the Beast” a twice-told tale at the annual Tulip Festival.
Such a hit during its first run last year, the Disney musical was revived for this year’s Night Show and given a few more bells and whistles.
“Be Our Guest,” that iconic welcome song, looks like it has a place setting for 12 and additional moves and surprises. “Human Again” has stronger participation by the animated objects, and the title song gets an even more heartfelt performance by Susan Veltkamp as Mrs. Potts.
Where this installment lags is in its sound design. That infectious opening number is almost impossible to understand, thanks to microphones that haven’t been coordinated for maximum effect. Without details about “Belle” and her “odd” ways, it’s difficult to understand what it is that upsets folks in her small town.
Luckily, the show settles in after a couple of scenes and it’s off and running.
Director Todd Vande Griend has saved a lot of what worked last year and plussed it with bigger special effects and some fine new actors.
Amanda Lemke is huggable as the misunderstood Belle; her husband Drew is even better in his second year as Lumiere. Owning “Be Our Guest” like no other, he’s a natural magnet, drawing us in to the plight of the household staff in the Beast’s house.
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In case you don’t know the tale as old as time (and, come on, who doesn’t?), an enchantress puts a spell on a selfish prince that turns him into a beast. Unwilling to leave his castle, he takes an inventor hostage when he’s lost in the forest. Belle, the inventor’s daughter, agrees to switch places and, in the process, discovers what makes him tick.
Brandon Miller returns as the Beast and continues to do a fine job; Don King is back as the blowhard Gaston and appears to have altered his performance for more laughs. While last year’s threatening stance was more interesting, this year’s take adjusts to the differences in his new LeFou (Noah Minnick). Last year’s LeFou was like an Olympic tumbler. This year’s is more Marx Brother.
Jack Bonnecroy has refined his take on Cogsworth and cruises through much of the show, enjoying the clockwork he and Drew Lemke created as partners in romantic crime.
Vande Griend’s decision to dress up stage hands as gargoyles is still inspired; Dan Mangold’s orchestra may be the best yet.
While we miss last year’s magic mirror (it lit up much more impressively), the show is tighter and only lags during those solemn second-act laments.
If Tulip Festival organizers want to capitalize on this year’s success (it’s sure to sell out), they might consider a show that could feature the Lemkes in co-starring roles. They’re a delight – just ready for a lot of big roles. Anything from “The Drowsy Chaperone” to “Chicago” should do. Meanwhile, enjoy what they’re doing here. When she’s not on stage, he is and the musical benefits greatly.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” runs through Saturday at Unity Christian Knight Center.