It has been a landmark year for the award-winning One More Productions troupe at the Gem, as well as its founders Damien Lorton and Nicole Cassesso: taking chances with musical productions such as "Nine" and "Bright Star" -- not as well known, yet to great acclaim and audience response. And while this season may not have seen some of the fan favorites of previous years, such as "Always, Patsy Cline" and "The Holiday Gem" (though "Patsy" returns for a limited engagement next year, and a certain bombastic bombshell from "Holiday Gem" has her own cameo in the new production), audiences have thrilled with OMP's offerings at the Gem this season.
That being said, the Damien Lorton-directed "Beast" is a fitting pinnacle to an already remarkable season.
An alumnus of previous shows, Gerardi shines as Belle: powerfully portraying a strong, sympathetic and self-determined woman, not defined by her beauty alone, who can't help but do the right thing by others -- even at the cost of her own comfort and freedom. Fraser's Beast is a marvel to behold as well: though hidden beneath heavy mask and costume for the majority of the show, through his performance the audience easily sympathizes with his plight, touched by the vulnerability beneath his brusque exterior.
Seigel's Gaston is marvelous -- simply put, that guy you love to hate (but can't help to like a little bit too, against your better judgment.) There's actually almost a fun house mirror quality between the two characters of the Beast and Gaston: the Beast appearing monstrous, though good-hearted when one gets past his defenses, while Gaston's handsome, sculpted appearance in reality disguises his distinctly male chauvinist bent (well, okay, maybe not that well disguised... he really is toxic masculinity personified.)
There's fantastic, frenetic chemistry between Seigel and Hunter Nelson as Gaston's sycophantic bestie Lefou -- along with the three "silly girls" who are constantly swooning over the muscular menace (played with hysterical gusto by Alyssa Twombly, Kady Lawson and Jessie Mays), they all steal nearly every scene they're in.
Then again, the same could be said of the interplay between Crisafulli's manic Cogsworth and Martino's buoyant Lumiere (as well as the latter's ongoing flirtation with Walsh's feather duster, Babette.) And as with a number of other Gem productions, Beth Hanson shines: as the kindly, affable Mrs. Potts with a remarkable rendition of the title number, "Beauty and the Beast." (And Siena Engle as Chip is absolutely adorable.)
If there is one particularly stand-out moment of the whole production, it's the joyous rendition of "Be Our Guest: an uplifting, dazzling spectacle of movement and color, truly like the animated classic being brought to life before your eyes.
"Beauty and the Beast" is one for the whole family (and selling out fast, so get your tickets while you can): it's a holiday treat that will be remembered for years to come -- guaranteed to brighten and lift the spirits of even the most resigned Grinch this season.