I read somewhere that the Walt Disney Company would sell copies of its animated features for a period of time, then withdraw them for re-issue every six or seven years. Company executives figured that this interval would keep the market from being flooded and bring new audiences, who would be old enough to become newly enchanted.
Of course, now at least some that strategy seems dated with the advent of Disney’s theatrical wing. With The Lion King still raking in the dough on Broadway, as well as on the road, Newsies continuing on Broadway and planning to tour, and Aladdin about to start performances on Broadway, some of Disney’s animated films have become ubiquitous.
Beauty and the Beast, running through Sunday and presented by Broadway/San Diego at the Civic Theatre, is one of the most ubiquitous ones. After completing the sixth longest run in Broadway history, it continues to tour with much of the original creative team still in place: Director Rob Roth, Choreographer Matt West, Scenic Designer Stanley A. Meyer, Tony™ Award-winning Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward, and Lighting Designer Natasha Katz. The tour presents traveling versions of these designs, but the fact that the creative team is still credited provides a clue that the quality of production is still solid.
And Beauty and the Beast is, indeed, a solid and highly enjoyable show.
Audiences seem to be very familiar with the animated feature and want to be sure that their favorite parts appear on stage. There is, of course, a rose that has been enchanted along with the entire household of a young prince (Tony D’Alelio). The prince has been turned into a beast (Darick Pead), and his household staff has become moving furniture. The spell can be lifted if a beautiful young woman falls in love with the beast – and he with her. But, the spell becomes permanent when the last petal of the rose drops to the ground.
Enter Belle (Hilary Maiberger), a beautiful young woman who loves books and spurns the advances of her town’s “leading man,” Gaston (Tim Rogan). When Belle’s father (Paul Crane) fails to return from a trip to the woods, Belle goes in search of him. Finding the Beast’s enchanted estate, Belle learns that the Beast has imprisoned her father. Belle begs the Beast to release her father and keep her locked up instead, and the Beast readily agrees, as he realizes that Belle might be his best hope of breaking the spell.
Belle does not take immediately to the Beast – by a long shot – but the enchanted staff win her over. The Beast frees Belle, knowing that she won’t love him while a prisoner. Belle returns home, fends off the pesky Gaston, and realizes that she wants to return to the Beast. And, of course, just as the last petal of the rose drops…well, you’ll just have to see the show to find out what happens.
San Diego audiences will enjoy seeing Ms. Maiberger as Belle, as she played Nellie Forbush in Moonlight Stage’s production of South Pacific last summer – and, was recently nominated for a Craig Noel Award for that portrayal. As Belle, her clear and strong soprano is on effective display, and her laid back, a tad ironic, characterization would certainly set her apart from a traditional fairy tale heroine.
As the Beast, Mr. Pead demonstrated the requisite physical ferocity, but he chose to sing in a character voice, in the process blunting the effects of the Beast’s songs. Kristin Stewart, as Mrs. Pots, made up for the Beast’s less effective moments with a joyous “Be Our Guest” and a rendition of the title song that was everything you could hope for. Mr. Rogan, despite being saddled with the comic villain character of Gaston, used his big voice to give Gaston’s songs that most necessary oomph. [php snippet=1]It is easy for the cast of a tour that’s been performing for quite a while to give “by the numbers” performances or to pander to the audience by playing over the top. On opening night at least none of that was in evidence. Even Jordan Aragon as Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou, used his physical dexterity to execute well-timed slapstick gags and kept the comic mugging to a minimum.
In short, this production of Beauty and the Beast provides solid enjoyment for the whole family. Hurry if you want to see it, though – it closes this Sunday.