WALTHAM -- The Reagle Players' latest musical production has the unmistakable air of the annual high school musical, and not just because the Players play at Waltham High School. Nor because the orchestra conductor is also the leader of the high school band, and the cast is augmented by what appear to be substantial portions of the school's drama program.
No, the essential high-school-ness of ``Disney's Beauty and the Beast" consists in its sheer dogged earnestness, its unbreakable will to entertain at any cost. The Players have spared nothing to ensure that their audience, which appears to be equally divided between very young people and very old people, gets exactly what it expects from a play bearing Disney's corporate imprimatur, namely a staged version of the 1991 animated film. And that makes ``Beauty" a beastly mess.
Why anyone would want to see a live version of a musical already available on DVD -- and with better sound -- is beyond this critic. But I'll grant the desire; is it fulfilled?
Sort of. If you close your eyes when the handful of professional, Actors' Equity Association-certified performers in the cast open their mouths, you can almost forget that you're in a high school and imagine yourself on Broadway. Sarah Pfisterer, who plays Belle, and Edward Watts , who plays Gaston, Belle's would-be paramour, are astonishingly good, as is Fred Inkley as a rather fussy Beast. The talent curve drops off rather precipitously after these three, although the rest give the performance their all.
From a technical standpoint, the production's major problem was tempo: at least 10 beats per minute too slow. Singers kept getting ahead of the orchestra. Songs outlasted their welcome. Intermission came, after more than 90 minutes, as a gift from heaven. Other onstage gaffes were held to a respectable minimum: scratchy body mikes, wayward sound effects, some mysterious mid-song jostling of the scenery.
Let no one say the Reagle Players don't know their audience. ``Be Our Guest," the film's most popular song, received a deluxe rendition lasting about 15 minutes, complete with scores of dancers dressed as all manner of kitchen cutlery and tea service items, and concluding with twin cannons shooting party streamers into an evidently satiated, not to say exhausted, audience. As Lumiere, the talking candlestick who plays barker for this carnival, recent Boston College graduate M. Zach Bubolo is fine, although he occasionally loses his French accent in the madding crowd.
The Players, still managed by founder Robert J. Eagle, must be doing something right: ``Disney's Beauty and the Beast" concludes the troupe's 38th consecutive summer season. And since the show's program notes that Eagle is responsible for funding the installation of an air-conditioning system in Waltham High's Robinson Theater, I really have no right to be ungracious. So if you still want to see the show, I have only three words:
Be my guest.
Michael Hardy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.