This high school production of the enormously popular Disney musical was as high-tech and ambitious as any play produced in Santa Barbara this year. Otto Layman, Chris Walas, and the extraordinary cast did a wonderful job deepening and darkening the familiar fairy tale, contributing to an evening of nonstop musical fun and laughter. As Belle, Santa Barbara High’s Jana McIntyre brought a beautiful voice with a warm rich tone along with excellent acting skills to this demanding lead role. Christopher “Critter” Canfield handled the challenge of the Beast and his considerable costume equally well, and even added a genuinely threatening note to some of his speeches that helped lift the whole production out of the cartoon world of its original incarnation and into the universe of such Broadway standouts as Les Mis.
Much of the charm of any production of Beauty and the Beast comes from the excitement of seeing a large cast having fun with great costumes. In this capacity, guest artist Chris Walas created some incredible things that really had to be seen to be believed, and choreographer Christina McCarthy set them all into glorious, full-throttle motion. There were some scenes, like the rousing “Be Our Guest” that concluded the first act, and the madcap “Mob Song” near the end, that seemed about to lift the house off its foundations with accumulated energy and mass coordination.
Norma Latuchie held the orchestra in the palms of her hands from the overture to the end of the last number, and the presence of such a well-rehearsed ensemble made it much easier to concentrate on and enjoy all the many fine performances. In many ways the best things about this show are the numerous juicy supporting roles, and the SBHS team came through with some great renditions of them. Carlin Traxler was amazing as Babette the Featherduster, performing all kinds of acrobatics on the spectacular multilevel set. Zac Frank got every bit of fun out of the fabulously entertaining part of Lumiere. Congratulations to everyone involved on a most satisfying Beast.