Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Alan Menken (Music); Howard Ashman & Tim Rice (Lyrics);
Linda Woolverton (Book)
|Brooke Quintana & Sam Hartley|
The first time I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on the big screen as an animated film, I immediately pictured the opening number “Belle” as made for the big stage. As the song’s angelic-looking namesake roams aimlessly nose in a book around her “little town, a quiet village,” townspeople of all shapes, sorts, and sizes rush about in chores and errands, taking time to jeer and point at her while singing in wonderful harmonies, “There she goes again ... She’s nothing like the rest of us, is Belle.” That film went on to become the first animated picture ever to be nominated in the Oscar Best Picture category (1992), and its stage version (the first Disney film ever made into a fully staged musical) secured nine 1994 Tony nominations (including Best Musical) and won the Olivier’s Best in 1998. Broadway’s ninth-longest-running musical, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, has since toured 13 countries and 115 cities and has now landed a three-day, Broadway San Jose stop-over with an outstanding production does proud for Alan Menkin (Music), Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (Lyrics), and Linda Woolverton (Book).
|Brooke Quintana as Belle|
Based on a mid-eighteenth-century French fairy tale, Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast is at its heart a story of two rejects by their local, narrow-minded society who stand up to rigid social norms and to dare fall in love, even though they are on the outside as different as night and day. Belle is an educated village girl who opines to her eccentric, inventing father Maurice, “I’m surrounded by people, but I’m so lonely.” She is the only girl in town not falling silly heads over heels for the handsome, muscled brute Gaston, who only has eyes for her and has intentions they will be married. A woods-wandering, soon-lost Maurice (a wide-eyed, always curious Thomas Mothershed) finds himself imprisoned in a hairy Beast’s castle (the Beast being a once-callous-hearted prince under a witch’s spell), a condition Belle remedies by offering herself as hostage in exchange for her father’s freedom. Surrounded in this doomed but enchanted household by a host of servants slowly turning into common objects like clocks, dishes, bureaus, and candlesticks, Belle slowly strikes a friendship and more with the horned, hairy master with long tail and gruff, growling disposition. As is true in all Disney stories, just when the going looks good that they might overcome the spell, turning everyone back into real people (including the once-handsome prince), disaster and evil arrive ... and well, the rest of the story is of course pure fairy tale and Disney magic.
Brooke Quintana brings much spunk and spirit to the heroine of this story as well as a voice that is crystal clear and able both to soar with unwavering grace as well as to modulate into contemplative reflection in songs like “Home” and “A Change in Me.” As the Beast, Sam Hartley is at first wildly animalistic as his pounces on chairs, roars in big blasts when annoyed, and shakes in fury. But, behind his mask of make-up, fur, warts and beefed-up muscle, he also ably conveys the Beast’s insecurity, shyness, and tender heart as well as sings in with soft, silvery tones unexpectedly coming from a brutal monster, “If I Can’t Love Her” (“let the world be done with me.” As a couple, the diminutive Belle and the gigantic Beast convincingly waltz their way into each other’s hearts during “Beauty and the Beast” (sung by a wonderfully voiced teapot played by Stephanie Gray) and blend into one harmonic entity in a reprise of “Home.”
|The Household Objects of the Castle|
As anyone who has ever seen the original film will quickly attest, the real fun of this outing comes from all the deliciously delightful characters inhabiting the house. There is the aforementioned, cheerful Mrs. Potts as the hostess-with-the-mostest teapot and her only-head-showing son Chip as a teacup rolling around smiling and chirping on a teacart (alternately played by Deandre Horner and Jake Jones). Samuel Shurtleff is appropriately pompous yet always funny Cogsworth the clock (and former butler) who is joined by his big-hearted, best pal Lumiere (a very French, former valet now with wick-lit hands and a body of a candle holder, Ryan N. Phillips). The four of them, along with a former opera diva (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) -- now chest of many drawers -- and a sexy maid (Melissa Jones) -- now covered in feathers as a duster, combine in one of the night’s highlight numbers, “Be Our Guest.” Along with a dancing/singing chorus line of forks, spoons, and knives and can-canning dinner plates, the most-famous number of this musical comes to full life and sound in an explosion of color, movement, and harmony (thanks to the excellent choreography of Matt West).
|Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek (Gaston) & Townspeople|
But even the bad guys in Disney productions are stars in their own rights and are often the best parts of the show. Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek’s Gaston is like a bad boy Lil’ Abner in appearance and demeanor. His ego is sky-high, and he always towers over his many townspeople worshippers in stature and exaggerated poses that look like ridiculous covers for Men’s Health Magazine. His voice rings loud and true for his self-adoring “Me,” and he is rambunctiously right in all his moves and notes in the big production number, “Gaston.” His sidekick Lefou (the rubber-bodied, tumbling, stumbling, and impish-looking Matt Dasilva) takes all his smacks and trips by the bullying Gaston in stride; and their reprise of “Gaston” is sung with frolic and frenzy. When required to become evil to lead the townspeople to rid their community of the Beast, this Gaston fills the bill with villainous voice in “The Mob Song.”
What helps make this touring production so much fun are the many on-and-off scenic elements that have the look of pop-ups in a children’s storybook. There is never any mistake that we are in the midst of a fairy tale, further enhanced by Ann Hould-Ward’s cartoon-like, tongue-in-cheek costumes full of the brightest colors and detailed in ways only Disney does. Lighting and sound effects by Natasha Katz and John Petrafesa, Jr., respectively, lead to magical moments and transformations while Shane Parus conducts a fine orchestra that does full justice to Alan Menkin’s hummable score.
Touring shows – especially those in town just for the weekend -- are sometimes only shadows of the original Broadway production in their staging and their stars. That is certainly not the case for this San Jose Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And while it may be too late upon reading this review to make it to this show, just know San Jose Broadway promises more good times for a longer stay of Disney’s Newsies, May 10-15, 2016 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.
Rating: 4 E
San Jose Broadway’s production of the touring Disney’s Beauty and the Beast closes April 2, 2016, at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 South Almaden Boulevard, San Jose. Tickets are available online at http://broadwaysanjose.com.
Photo Credit by Matthew Murphy