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Better Than Broadway

Even the Great White Way can't beat Theatre IV's "Disney's Beauty and the Beast."

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To bring this adaptation of the beloved Disney movie to the stage, Theatre IV spared no expense to provide a feast for the eyes. Joel Sherry's set rises to three stories of monumental glory, complete with a forbidding castle doorway and outfitted with revolving staircases and fly-in forests. The costumes are simply stunning. From evocative furry coats on a pack of hungry wolves to the innovative mechanics of a human candelabra to the layered satin loveliness of a flowing ball gown, designer Terry Snyder has created something brilliant for every character from the smallest piece of cutlery up to the Beast himself.

Director Robin Arthur has assembled a talented cast truly worthy of all the technical lavishness, starting with the luminous Cathy Motley-Fitch as Belle, the bookish beauty who dreams of a grander life beyond her provincial town. Motley-Fitch's voice is as expressive as it is strong, infusing the familiar songs of "B&B" with spunk, fear or affection as needed.

These feelings and many others are evoked as Belle finds herself thrown into an unexpected adventure when her eccentric father (Jason Marks) happens upon the enchanted castle of an angry prince who has been transformed into a hideous-looking monster. This Beast who first terrorizes then tries to woo Belle is played by Andy Nagraj, a graduating University of Richmond senior equipped with a resonant voice and the essential ability to project both gentleness and rage, sometimes simultaneously.

The supporting cast is so uniformly excellent that it seems unfair to single out anyone. But two members of the castle staff make the most of their unfortunate enchanted status. Joe Pabst uses every aspect of Lumiere, the previously mentioned candelabra, as an opportunity for a joke, from his flirtatious swagger to his comic double-takes. And Jonathon Spivey gives Cogsworth, who transforms into a clock at an alarming rate, a hilarious physicality with a tick-tock walk nearly as funny as his self-referential puns.

Matt Polson as the impossibly egotistical Gaston adds some comic highlights as well, assisted by his inadvertently insulting gofer, Le Fou (Richard Koch). If I had more space, I would go on about the well-orchestrated music (thanks to musical director Jimmy Hicks) and director Arthur's inventive choreography. Suffice it to say that, for as much as it costs to park in Manhattan, you can see New York-caliber theater in Richmond right now. Catch it while you can. S



"Disney's Beauty and the Beast" runs through May 14 at the Empire Theatre, 114 West Broad St. Tickets are $29-$32. Call 344-8040 for details or visit www.theatreivrichmond.org.

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