CANTON The Players Guild's new production of "Disney's Beauty & the Beast" is a big, ambitious undertaking that somehow gets everything right.

There is so much packed into this steadily enjoyable two-and-a-half hour show that it's hard to know where to begin describing it.

How about with the title characters? A skilled actress and vocalist, lovely Rachel Smith creates a fully dimensional heroine as the book-loving, strong-willed, idealistic, thoughtful and sometimes even playful Belle. As the prince-turned-beast, Sean Fleming summons up plenty of menacing gruffness and physicality but he also finds vulnerability and tenderness inside this cursed creature exiled to a castle. The pair's developing chemistry is both convincing and touching to witness.

And then there's Gaston, the tall, dashing and conceited jerk in love with Belle, who is utterly immune to his alleged charms. Mason Stewart, who plays him, has the right looks, swagger and comedic flair plus a commanding stage presence. When he unites the townspeople to destroy the beast, the buffoon turns ego-driven villain.

The Beast's castle is brimming with delightfully colorful and funny characters. As the emcee-like Lumiere the candlestick, high-energy Justin Woody has a lusty laugh and a very French persona, plus a delightfully flirty girlfriend named Babette (played by Desiree Hargrave) who is a French maid/feather duster. Scene-stealing Jacob Sustersic is properly British and uptight as Cogsworth the clock, aptly described as "tightly wound and ticked off."

Julie Connair is cheery warmth personified as Mrs. Potts the teapot (who sings the show's title song), and young Noah Tisevich is all boy as her teacup son. Rounding out this unusual castle crew is Tehilah Caviness, as a wardrobe who sings operatic arias. 

Other prominent characters include Maurice (Ralph Cooley), Belle's proudly eccentric and loving father, and Lefou (amusing Anthony Woods-Mitchell), Gaston's silly, mistreated and worshipful sidekick.

The show's big production numbers deliver the goods and then some. "Gaston," a celebratory romp that unfolds at the town tavern, includes an intricately choreographed segment of clanking beer steins that is wholly impressive. The show-stopping "Be Our Guest" just keeps topping itself, with can-can girls, acrobatics, and dancing knives, forks and plates in a kind of Busby Berkeley whirlwind. Choreographer Michael Lawrence Akers has done an inventive and commendable job with the musical staging.

Kudos also to scenic designer Joshua Erichsen and master carpenter Micah Harvey, costumer Stephen Ostertag, and lighting (and sound) designer Scott Sutton for creating the elaborate, story-enhancing visuals. On opening night, the pit orchestra, conducted by Steve Parsons, was full-bodied and precise.

The original animated "Beauty and the Beast" film and this year's live-action version certainly have their appeal, but this story is especially effective when unfolding onstage with the immediacy of live actors. This full-bodied local production, directed by Jonathan Tisevich, is certainly worth a visit.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday through October 8, on the Players Guild Mainstage at the Cultural Center for the Arts, Tickets, $29 for adults, $26 for seniors and $22 for ages 17 and under, may be ordered at www.playersguildtheatre.com and 330-453-7617.