That “tale as old as time” better known as Disney’s Beauty And The Beast is back at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts for the first time in over three years—with a brand-new cast and all the magic of the 1992 animated classic and the Broadway musical it inspired.
Beauty And The Beast made movie history twenty-two years ago by becoming the first full-length animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Major musical sequences like “Belle,” “Gaston,” and “Be Our Guest” felt so much like Broadway production numbers that its 1994 transfer to The Great White Way made perfect sense, leading to nine Tony nominations, three National Tours, English and foreign language productions the world round, and major regional productions
February of 2011 marked the start of Beauty And The Beast’s Fourth National Tour, a production Segerstrom Audiences first got to see in November of that year.
Though the NETworks presentation is a non-Equity tour (and no longer produced by Disney Theatrical Productions), there’s not a weak link in the show’s twenty-four-member cast. Its original creators have streamlined the original production, cutting a couple non-essential songs (“No Matter What” and “Maison Des Lunes”) and the Act Two battle sequence between townspeople and servants-turned-furniture, household implements, and dinnerware, making what had seemed a somewhat overlong show (especially one for children) zip by quite quickly indeed.
Since there’s probably not an audience member under the age of thirty who didn’t see the animated classic as a child, and since anyone over thirty has probably seen it as a teenager or adult, there’s no need to synopsize. Those who have not yet experienced Beauty And The Beast live on stage may wonder how its creative team managed to recreate with live actors characters like Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts, servants transformed by an enchantress’s spell into items of furniture, especially in production numbers like “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again.” Suffice it to say that Beauty And The Beast’s book writer Linda Woolverton, director Rob Roth, and costume designer Ann Hould-Ward came up with ingenious solutions likely to surprise those who may have thought it couldn’t be done.
The 84-minute film’s original songs (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman) have been supplemented by a number of additions (lyrics by Tim Rice), most particularly Belle’s “Home,” Gaston’s “Me,” and Beast’s powerful Act One closer “If I Can’t Love Her,” which serve to flesh out and enrich Woolverton’s characters.
Associate director Sam Scalamoni and associate choreographer Connor Gallagher have done a terrific job of recreating Roth’s Tony-nominated original Broadway direction and original choreographer Matt West’s dance steps, including the now iconic “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” “Human Again,” and most especially “Gaston,” which features the most exciting (and innovative) “stein-ography” I’ve ever seen.
As is the case with most non-Equity tours, NETworks has cast this Beauty And The Beast young, very young, virtually the entire population of Belle’s “little quiet village” barely into their twenties and many of them recent college graduates. (It says something for the quality of musical theater BFA programs across the country that ensemble members have studied as far and wide as Washington D.C.’s Catholic University, Boston Conservatory, Oklahoma City University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Utah’s Brigham Young University, New York City’s Columbia University, University Of South Dakota, and our very own UCLA.)
There’s not a single weak link in the entire cast many of whom surely have Broadway and Equity National Tours in their future.
Hillary Maiberger is pure perfection as Belle, from her radiant smile to her glorious soprano to some powerful acting chops. Darick Pead does memorable work as well, giving Beast the right blend of sweetness and vulnerability to turn a young Beauty’s heart, and a resonant baritone to match.
You won’t find four more sensational supporting turns than Tim Rogan’s delectably swelled-headed (and biceped) Gaston, Jordan Aragon’s masterfully physical LeFou, Hassan Nazari-Robati’s infectiously charming Lumiere, and James May’s fussy but warm-hearted Cogsworth, comedically inspired scene stealers all four of them, taking the original animated characters as models and making the roles very much their own. (May also voices the show’s now memorable prologue: “For who could ever love … a Beast?”)
Top marks go also to Kristin Stewarts’s warm and wonderful Mrs. Potts, Stephanie Moskal’s saucy Babette, Jack Mullen’s cute Chip, Roxy York’s larger-than-life Madame, and (back in Belle’s village) Paul Crane’s amusingly dotty Maurice.
Supporting cast principals is an all-around terrific, inexhaustibly talented song-and-dance ensemble as Townspeople and Enchanted Objects: Blaire Baker, fight captain Chris Brand, Tiger Brown, Kieron Cindric, Tony D’Alelio, Mark Edwards, Sarah Gawron, Bonnie Kelly, Kevin Robert Kelly, Corey Joseph Masklee, Emilie Renier, Brandon Roach, Trevor Sones, Emily Thomas, Jill-Christine Wiley, and Becky Whitcomb.
Brown, Gawron, and Kelly deserve added snaps for their deliciously ditzy synchronized turns as Silly Girls, Cindric for his delightfully creepy turn as Monsieur D’Arque, and D’Alelio for his stunningly acrobatic Carpet, Dance captain Alyssa Brizzi and assistant dance captain Anthony LaGuardia are swings, poised to step into any ensemble track at a moment’s notice. D’Alelio also appears as Young Prince. Holden Browne alternates with Mullen as Chip.
This NETworks tour sports a reconceived set design by Beauty And The Beast’s original Broadway scenic designer Stanley A. Moyer, a more fanciful, less literal one that has a terrific storybook feel to it (and is doubtless considerably easier to transport). In addition to Tony-winning costume designer Hould-Ward, Tony-nominated lighting designer Natasha Katz makes the production look uniquely stunning. Music supervision and incidental musical arrangements are by the original Broadway musical director Michael Kosarin.
Sound designer John Petrafesa, Jr., puppet designer Basil Twist (love those wolves!), hair designer David H. Lawrence, fight director Rick Sordelet, and illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer all deserve high marks as well.
Musical director Kevin Francis Finn conducts the tour’s ten-piece orchestra, smaller than previous tours’ though for the most part you’d hardly notice.
Meg Parrish is technical director, Kelsey Tippins production stage manager, and Ryan Parliment company manager.
Disney’s Beauty And The Beast is family entertainment at its finest, providing enchantment for children, romance for adults, and plenty of laughs for both. You won’t find a bigger, better family musical treat this week than Disney’s Beauty And The Beast.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
January 14, 2014
Photos: Amy Boyle