Following a string of winners, most recently a heavenly Sister Act and an absolutely fabulous La Cage Aux Folles, Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre opens the new year with a disappointing, albeit still largely entertaining, Disney Beauty And The Beast.

Those who haven’t yet experienced Disney Beauty And The Beast live onstage may wonder how its 1994 Broadway adaptation managed to recreate with living, breathing actors the Best Picture Oscar-nominated 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.”

Suffice it to say that Disney Beauty And The Beast’s book writer Linda Woolverton and the show’s creators 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 notably 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, though the stage musical’s longer running time will test the attention span of children under five (i.e., leave those toddlers and preschoolers at home).

Under John LaLonde’s direction, Lindsay Joan makes for a lovely Belle, Stanton Kane Morales and Bryan Overmeyer are charmers as Lumiere and Cogsworth, and Michael Moon and Nicholas Alexander add up to a hilarious slapstick duo as Gaston and Lefou. (Kudos for the bang! pow! sound effects whenever the former delivers a punch to his hapless henchman.)

Beast Matt Merchant, though a powerful vocalist, needs to dig deeper into Beast’s dark, tormented soul, and once out of his mane and unconvincing face makeup, the longtime Troubadour Theatre Company favorite seems more like the pro wrestler he played in the Happy Days tour than a bona fide Disney Prince.

Angela Baumgarder’s Mrs. Potts, Frank Minano’s Maurice, and Josh Tangermann’s Monsieur D’Arque all have their effective moments, young Andrew Bar delights as Chip, and Madame De La Grande Bouche benefits from Holly Jamison’s operatic pipes.

Candlelight has once again assembled a talented young ensemble—Jenny Hoffman, Emma Nossal, and Bailey Day Sonner as Silly Girls, Megan Lafferty (Enchantress), John McGavin (Young Prince), John Paul Batista, Denise Esteves, Bryan Martinez, Jennavie Ochoa, and Chad Takeda.

Where Candlelight/IVRT’s joint effort falls shortest is in production design, particularly as concerns Brea Youth Theatre’s sets, adapted by Chuck Ketter, particularly problematic in a musical where Broadway-caliber (or at least Broadway-competitive) design is key.

Not only do flimsy painted scrims back each and every scene not set in Beast’s castle (Belle’s “little quiet village” seems particularly two-dimensional), the reduced stage area hampers choreographer Janet Renslow in both the show-opening “Bonjour” and the potentially show-stopping “Gaston.”

As for the beastly prince’s presumably dark and threatening lair, once revealed it turns out to be a mishmash of set pieces seemingly assembled from previous productions, and even here Renslow doesn’t have the space to give “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again” their due.

Costumes provided by The Theatre Company (coordinated by Merrill Grady) and Michon Gruber-Gonzalez’s wigs are a mixed bunch, the least effective of which are a quartet of wolves that appear more like six-foot stuffed teddy bears than the menacing monsters they ought to be.

Steve Giltner and StreetLite LLC’s usually first-rate lighting suffered from some flickering lights at the performance reviewed.

Vocal performances are pretty much all top-notch under Ronda Rubio’s musical direction, performed to prerecorded tracks.

Hope Kaufman is assistant director. Daniel Moorefield is stage manager and Orlando Montes is technical director.

It’s been quite a while since Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre has offered Southland audiences a less than all-around terrific show. Disney Beauty And The Beast has its moments, but not enough to make it another Sister Act or La Cage.

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Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
January 22, 2017

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