La Belle et La Bête have brought their “tale as old as time” to Long Beach as Musical Theatre West offers Angelinos an absolutely sensational regional production of Disney’s Beauty And The Beast.
It’s hard to believe that twenty-three years have passed since Disney’s take on the fairytale classic made movie history by becoming the first full-length animated feature to score a Best Picture Oscar nomination. 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, though none in L.A. county as far back as this reviewer can remember.
Yes, a non-Equity tour did stop at the Pantages in 2011, but this was a “streamlined” version that cut a pair of songs and left the Act Two battle sequence between townspeople and servants-turned-furniture, household implements, and dinnerware on the cutting-room floor.
Musical Theatre West gives audiences the whole shebang, and though its longer running time will test the attention span of children under five (so leave those toddlers and preschoolers at home), this is perfect family entertainment for elementary school-aged and up, the kind that adults can enjoy every bit as much as the kiddies.
Those who haven’t yet experienced Beauty And The Beast on stage may wonder how its creative team managed to recreate with live actors the animated film’s 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 and the show’s original Broadway design team 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.
Disney’s Beauty And The Beast was the very first Broadway show its MTW helmer David F.M. Vaughn saw as a child, and his incisive, imaginative direction reveals just how much he appreciates the magic of its story and understands the depth of its characters.
Add to that choreographer Bill Burns’ take on Broadway original Matt West’s exciting dance steps (including the now iconic “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” “Human Again,” and most especially the exciting, innovative “stein-ography” of “Gaston”) and you’ve got as assuredly directed and choreographed a Beauty And The Beast as any theatergoer could wish for.
Vaughn’s casting choices are as inspired as his direction, beginning with the marvelous Gwen Hollander’s enchanting, gorgeously sung Belle and a dream team of servants-turned-inanimate objects: Michael Paternostro, a scene-stealing charmer à la Maurice Chevalier as Lumiere; Brandon L. Armstrong, prim-and-proper perfection as Cogsworth; Cathy Newman, warm, wise, and wonderful as Mrs. Potts; Melina Kalomas, a saucy, sexy Babette; Emily King Brown, a divalicious Madame De La Grand Bouche; and Wyatt R. Larrabee, splendidly spunky as teacup Chip.
Meanwhile back in the village, Christian Marriner has great fun as full-of-himself Gaston, and never more so than when teamed with a hilarious Robert Ramirez as pratfall-prone sidekick Lefou. Doug Carfrae (a divertingly dotty Maurice) and Tom G. McMahon (a deliciously dastardly Monsieur D’Arque) benefit from the restoration of the two songs cut from the non-Eq tour.
Most memorable of all is L.A. musical theater newcomer Garrett Marshall, not only holding his own against Equity castmates with much longer résumés but making this Beauty And The Beast every bit as much Beast’s show as it is Belle’s. Not only does the casting of 20something Marshall as Beast prove inspired, the PCPA grad’s take on this iconic character (tormented and misunderstood rather than merely monstrous) gives us a Beast our hearts bleed for even as we root for Belle to see beneath his hideous exterior. Oh, and Marshall sings Beast’s “If I Can’t Have Her” every bit as powerfully as he acts the part.
An all-around fabulous ensemble supports the above principals as Townspeople and Enchanted Objects. Marliss Amiea, Sydney Blair, Alison Boresi, Sarah Ariel Brown, Daniel Dawson, Alex Dreschke, Aaron Felske, Kara Haller, Kristin Marie Johnson, Laleh Khorsandi, Dominic Leslie, Collin McCarthy, McMahon, Melanie Mitchell, Adrian Mustain, Thomas Adoue Polk, and YouTube sensation Christian Villanueva not only sing and dance to perfection but create real characters with real lives (and real objects who used to have equally real lives).
Amiea, Blair, and Khorsandi deserve added snaps for their delectably ditzy synchronized turns as Silly Girls, Dawson for his amazingly acrobatic Carpet, and Leslie for his Young Prince cameo opposite Enchantress Johnson.
Michael Borth scores high marks as musical director and conductor of MTW’s Broadway-size/caliber pit orchestra, musicians provided by Los Angeles Musicians Collective.
Scenery and props by Escape Theatre, Santa Clarita capture the look of the original Disney film as do Tiia Torchia and Shawn Adrian Decou’s costumes (provided by Music Theatre Of Wichita) and Bryan Batista’s wigs. Jean-Yves Tessier has created yet another vivid lighting design and John Nobori provides a crystal-clear sound design (and some great Beast effects). As for those magical transformations, they are quite excitingly rendered on the Carpenter Center stage with the aid of projection designer Jon Infante.
Makeup designer Denice Paxton (and Beast’s monstrous look), hair designer Gieselle Blair, costumer Karen St. Pierre, and prop mistresses Melanie Cavaness and Gretchen Morales all merit kudos as well.
Kevin Clowes is technical director, Tom Bartlett stage manager, and Mary Ritenhour production manager/ASM.
As Broadway audiences discovered over its 5,461-performance run, 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.
Musical Theatre West’s world-class production offers Southland audiences all this—and then some!
Musical Theatre West, Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.
July 12, 2014
Photos: Caught In The Moment Photography