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Beast of Times 

Crisp performances animate Carousel's Beauty and the Beast.

Since there are many versions of Beauty and the Beast floating around -- from the animated Disney movie to Broadway touring companies to other assorted productions -- here's hoping that someone eventually has the onions to do one in which the Beast doesn't change back into a razor-cut handsome prince at the end. Let's face it, the moral of the story as it stands now is that if you're ugly and someone loves you, you'll be rescued from your hideous physical prison and end up looking like a Channel 3 weekend anchor. Some lesson.

Belle and the beastie boy are spinning their tale again, this time at the Carousel Dinner Theatre. And while there are some terrifically enjoyable performances, the show lacks visual appeal. Working under legal constraints that prevent this production from copying original character designs, director Marc Robin and set designer Robert A. Kovach have staged the material with virtually no design at all. Many scenes -- even intimate two-person moments -- are played on Carousel's immense but essentially bare stage, sometimes in front of a painted backdrop or a silvery curtain. At times, it feels like a rehearsal run-through for which no one bothered to wheel out the sets. And when there are set pieces, they're often clumsy. This is particularly true in the Beast's castle, where a couple of large box platforms, their translucent sides painted like birthday gift-wrap, are pushed around to serve as elevated playing areas -- never mind that such structures have no relevance in any residence, castle or otherwise.

This lack of imagination is a shame, because it detracts from some amusing performances. As the testosterone-besotted Gaston, Matt Stokes is a pleasure, bullying his adoring posse even as he tries to flex his way into Belle's heart. And the servants who were turned into home furnishings by the spell are consistently entertaining, with James Patterson's libidinous Lumière and John Reeger's tightly wound Cogsworth capturing all the fun of their characters' playful competitiveness. Paula Scrofano is also lovely as Mrs. Potts, handling the title song with tender panache.

As for B&B themselves, Julia Krohn's Belle is sweet, but a bit squishy, and her voice seemed too weary to sustain some notes. In his dialog scenes as the Beast, Curt Dale Clark is alternately intimidating and whimsical, but when he breaks into song, he loses some of his basso vocal range. Gaston's whipping-boy Le Fou is played with rag-doll suppleness by Benjamin Brooks Cohen, but he doesn't animate his face enough to tap all his character's comic potential.

Even considering the good-to-superior performances, the net takeaway from this Beauty is a bit disappointing. Sort of like the feeling book-lover Belle must have when the Beast reveals his supposedly enormous library and it's just three painted bookcases barely visible on the back wall. When you're expecting the Library of Congress, a bookmobile just ain't gonna hack it.

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