By KATERINA BELALES
After being released more than 20 years ago in 1991, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” has become one of the most classic and iconic movies throughout time, due to its loving, charming, and passionate storyline.
“Beauty and the Beast” focuses on the relationship between the Beast, a prince who is magically transformed into a monster as punishment for his arrogance, and Belle, a beautiful young woman who he imprisons in his castle. In order for everyone in the castle (besides Belle) to become human again, the Beast must learn to truly fall in love by his 21st birthday. Accompanied by the servants of the castle, who were also transformed into magical inanimate objects, Belle and the Beast soon fall in love, which creates excitement throughout the castle, how everyone will be human again.
This beautiful storyline and gorgeous score, composed by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, made the movie become the first animated movie to ever be nominated for “Best Picture” at the 64th Academy Awards.
In 1994, the movie became a musical, and it opened on Broadway at the Palace Theatre on April 18, 1994 and ran there until Sept. 5, 1999, transferring to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Nov. 11, 1999, with an official opening date of Nov. 16, 1999. The musical closed on July 29, 2007 to make way for Disney’s next musical venture, “The Little Mermaid.”
I had the pleasure to see this show at the Bushnell in Hartford on the opening night, May 6, of its touring production
Along with many of the classic songs in the original movie, such as the title song “Beauty and the Beast,” “Be Our Guest,” and “Belle,” Alan Menken and Tim Rice, who took the place of Ashman after his death, came together and composed more than 10 new songs and instrumental cues together for the Broadway musical, including “Home” performed by Belle when she first becomes a prisoner in the castle, “If I Can’t Love Her” performed by the Beast when he realizes that Belle could be the girl to break the curse, and “Me” performed by Gaston when he proposes to Belle.
One of the most powerful new songs is “A Change in Me,” which was written in 1998 specifically for Toni Braxton when she joined the show, and has stayed in the program ever since. Belle performs this song when her and her father, Maurice, return to their home when Belle is released from the castle and is able to go to her father’s care. She tells her father that her stay in the palace has affected her in a great, and positive, way. It definitely is one of the best parts of the show.
The storyline in the musical is still the same story that everyone knows and fell in love with. However, there are a few changes that didn’t affect the story too much. The most prominent change is that the magic behind the transformations is slightly modified: Instead of being fully transformed (as shown in the movie), the characters are slowly transforming into their respective objects. Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Babette the Feather Duster lament this fact, revealing that some of the servants have already completely transformed and cannot speak, see, or move; they fear the same will happen to them if the spell is not broken soon. Some characters in the movie who were nameless have now been given names, such as the feather duster, who is now named Babette, and the wardrobe, who’s now named Madame de la Grande Bouche and is revealed to be a former famous opera diva.
I enjoyed the show greatly. “Beauty and the Beast” has always been one of my favorite Disney movies. I was pretty impressed with most of the cast members.
First, the ensemble was wonderful. I loved the choreography during the prominent dance numbers, such as “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest,” and “Human Again.” Each member of the ensemble executed each step and movement perfectly.
I also thought the singing was excellent from everyone.
Hilary Maiberger, who played Belle, captured Belle’s personality perfectly. She had a lovely singing voice, and was very beautiful. She was one of the best Belles that I have ever seen. Her versions of “Home” and “A Change in Me” were beautiful. I loved her for the part.
Darick Pead played the Beast. He had a wonderful singing voice, and I was brought to tears by his version of “If I Can’t Love Her.” However, his portrayal was a little different than other Beasts that I’ve seen. Personally, I had to get used to his portrayal. He added something new to the Beast’s personality, which, personally, made him less masculine to me. Even though the Beast was funny in the movie, Pead tried making him even funnier, and, to me, took away the Beast’s masculine personality. However, I can understand why he chose to play the character like that, as there were many children in the audience. He tried to make the role lighter, and honestly, I applaud him for that.
Next, there’s Gaston. Tim Rogan played Gaston, and he seemed to be the same exact character that you saw in the movie, which I loved. His cocky, self-loving personality was spot-on. I felt that the cartoon Gaston from the movie came to life and played himself on this tour.
Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick, was also greatly played. Plus, his role was greatly expanded in the production. Lefou was portrayed by Jordan Aragon, and he was great in the role, as well.
All of the servants in the castle, Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Robati), Cogsworth (James May), Mrs. Potts (Kristin Stewart), Babette (Stephanie Moskal), Madame de la Grande Bouche (Roxy York), and Chip (at my performance he was played by Jack Mullen), were wonderful. Lumiere’s personality was captured perfectly by Nazari-Robati, and James May was wonderful portraying Cogsworth’s “tightly-wound” personality. Again, like Gaston, I felt as if that both characters popped out of the movie and decided to play themselves. Kristin Stewart captured Mrs. Potts’ mother-like personality perfectly, and Jack Mullen, despite his short stage-time, was very cute as Chip. I was very happy to see that the characters of Babette and Madame de la Grande Bouche were greatly expanded (like Lefou). Both actresses, Stephanie Moskal and Roxy York, perfected their roles. I loved watching them. Paul Crane, who portrayed Belle’s father, Maurice, perfected the character’s kooky, silly personality. Finally, I enjoyed Gaston’s three Silly Girls so much. They were portrayed by Bonnie Kelly, Sarah Gawron, and Tiger Brown. Whenever they were onstage I laughed. I wish they appeared during Act II. It was a breath of fresh air when they were performing.
Like any other production, however, there were flaws. First off, the sets didn’t thrill me too much.
The entire production was very much scaled down from the original Broadway production. While the sets were gorgeous, there wasn’t much to them. They were pretty small and simple. For example, the sets for the village were only three small houses and a background that looked more like a mural than a backdrop. Also, the sets for the castle were mostly small golden stairs. The only set that really impressed me was the set during “Be Our Guest.” That set had the most of the “spectacle” to me. Other than that, the sets were a let down from the original production. Also, the special effects were a little cheap looking and didn’t have as much of the magic and spectacle like the effects in the original production. However, this is a non-equity production. Therefore, I can understand why the sets and special effects weren’t all that much. If you are expecting extravagent, gigantic sets and special effects, don’t get your hopes up. I was expecting the same thing, and was let down. But, I still enjoyed the show greatly, and didn’t let those components lower my perception about the show.
Also, if you have children, be aware that the show is about two hours and 30 minutes long. Many children in the audience were getting bored, restless, and tired, while others were just fine. However, many of these children were causing a distraction to the other audience members. Many parents also were not doing anything about their child’s behavior, which felt very rude to me and other members in the audience. So, please be aware if your child will be able to see the show without so much of a hassle.
Overall, I would give this production 3 1/2 out of 4 stars. It was a very good show for the most part, and I would definitely recommend it for a fun family night. If you have little girls whose favorite princess is Belle, or they just love Disney, take them. There was nothing that I found too scary in the show. The Beast’s costume might scare your child a little bit, but, as stated before, Darick Pead adds a funnier side to the Beast to make him less scary to the younger ones. So, if you have a child who loves Disney and “Beauty and the Beast,’ if you yourself love Disney and “Beauty and the Beast,” or if you just like theater in general, I suggest you go see this show. It’s such a fun and magical night for the whole family.
Katerina Belales is a freshman at Southington High School.
By KATERINA BELALES