Beauty and the Beast, Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Book by Linda Woolverson. Directed by Doug Hodge.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Jeffrey Funaro and Quinto Ott as Lumierre and Cogsworth
"Do I still have to sleep in a cupboard?"
Everything Disney. Pretty Disney music with a slightly Gallic flair. Charming Disney costumes full of color and hard to wear. Aging Disney story telling; Paging Disney! Itís not jelling!
On stage at the Mac-Haydn there is a very pretty production of the cartoon classic, officially known as "Disneyís Beauty and the Beast." There must be something about the license agreement that insists that Disneyís name in the Disney cartoon font must be used on the program. Itís as though someone must be afraid that thereís a person over the age of two who wonít know this is a Disney product. Frankly, the logo is unnecessary. This show reeks of Disney.
That isnít actually a bad thing. I should make that very clear. While there may be little of Disney that appeals to middle-aged adults, they are probably the only group not affected in some way by the fluff that Disney produces. Thereís a tug at the heartstrings, for sure. Sentimentality rears its pure blonde head. Thereís the quirky humor evinced in character names and costume choices: Lumiere with his candle shaped head; Mrs. Potts with her crooked arm-handle; Madame de la Grande Boucheís wardrobe with makeup mirror.
The songs are clever, tuneful, singable and danceable. The book uses language suitable for four year olds and funny enough for their grandparents to still enjoy. Belle, the beauty, is a bookworm but gorgeous. Gaston, the bully, is built and blustery, full of himself and his muscles. The beast is ugly, mean-spirited, with a gruff voice and a canned roar but underneath is shy and frightened and as ready for a bit of love and affection as any man-child would be at any age. All the ingredients are there for a successful show. Director Doug Hodge mixes these ingredients together nicely, adding a hint of reality here and there to make this fairy tale into something accessible.
The Mac-Haydn cast is really quite up to the peculiarities of such a property. In particular Laura Hartle who plays Belle, the Beauty, manages to replicate the walk, look and dance techniques of the screen Belle, the cartoon. She is fascinating to watch and lovely to listen to when she sings. Luckly for the audience she sings quite often in this show. This dark haired beauty from New York City takes instant command of the stage in Chatham, New York and never gives it up for a second. Hers is not the facile performance of the very young and new but rather a refined, studied presentation that would make any professional proud.
Her equal in these techniques is Monica M. Wemitt as the teapot housekeeper, Mrs. Potts. With everything easily set in her vocal range she is romantically suited to the role, intoning the title song beautifully and moving her audience most effectively. She is also charming with the boy, George Franklin, who plays her son, Chip.
Jeffrey Funaro is wonderful as Lumiere, the French butler turned candlestick. There is also Quinto Ott who lends credibility to Cogsworth the English butler turned mantle clock. At the performance I attended Karla Shook as the wardrobe could not be heard at all. I had no idea her voice was so small and contained before this. Her sister, Kelly Shook, does double duty in this show, playing Babette the very French Maid and choreographing the dances. She performs both functions admirably.
Jon Reinhold plays Gaston in such a way as to make him not only not likeable but to make him despicable. His sidekick Lefou is played with acrobatic smarts by Seth Eliser. Belleís father Maurice is handled by Charlie Robertson in a slightly unconvincing manner.
Ben Jacobyís Beast is nicely played. He must appear to be frightening and loveable at the same time and that isnít easy, especially with a masked costume that presents a monster appearance. Jacoby does well acting the altering levels of understanding and commitment. His singing is fine, especially in the first act closer "If I Canít Love Her."
Dale DiBernardo has done a wonderful job with the costumes. Each one, so close to the Disney originals, still has a unique appeal and they move wonderfully in the complex set changes and onstage dances and movement sequences. The set design, a joint venture between lighting designer Andrew Gmoser and Kevin Gleason, is clever and functional and impressive in the many moods created by the same arches.
Josh Zecher-Ross creates a nice sound from the synthesizer-based music box.
This is a good family outing show, but donít make the mistake one pair of parents did at the show I attended and bring an infant. The Beast is scary; the wolves are scary; the men are scary. And two and a half hours is a long time to listen to a baby screaming. This is one Disney tale aimed at the middle-aged kid, not the five and under crowd. Tale as old as time! (Well, not really that old, but probably from the late middle ages.)
Beauty and the Beast plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, located on Route 203 north of Chatham, New York through July 26. For tickets and information contact the box office at 518-392-9292.