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REVIEW: "Beauty and the Beast" — Cal State Fullerton Performing Arts

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

“A Sightseer's Delight and a Theatergoer's Dream…”

Now through October 27th, California State University Fullerton’s Little Theatre is serving up a charming and delightful family treat with Disney’s timeless 1994 modern classic musical, “Beauty and the Beast,” adapted for the stage from the Academy Award-winning film of the same name and featuring new music by Alan Menken, lyrics by the late Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton. This “tale as old as time,” which garnered nine Tony nominations, was a massive commercial success, and ran on Broadway for 13 years with 5,461 performances, becoming Broadway's tenth longest-running production in history.

The tale of Beauty and the Beast is an old one, dating back centuries prior to the version penned by 18th century Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, upon which author Woolverton based her book. Understandably, the people at Disney took their inspiration from Jean Cocteau's 1946 classic and have added their own spin to the plot details, modernizing Belle's character (she's a feminist), and adding a gallery of talking objects. In the Beast's ensorcelled castle, everything has a voice: candlesticks, clocks, pots, teacups, wardrobes, and feather dusters.

Side Note: If you are one of the six people in America who don't know the plot, a wicked witch long ago has transformed the handsome prince into a cross between Quasimodo and a buffalo, and the staff of the castle is slowly turning into anthropomorphic household objects. The only way for the Beast (played by Jack O’Leary) to become human again is with the condition that he learns to love and be loved in return.

Belle (Laurel Bollard) is the most beautiful girl, but feels out of place in her quaint provincial village in France. She's also one of the village's oddest denizens. She keeps to herself, helping her eccentric inventor father, Maurice (Kaden Narey), with his contraptions, and, in her spare time, devouring books. She has read just about everything available in the town, and eagerly awaits the arrival of anything new. Every time she ventures outdoors, she draws stares and snickers, but, despite her strangeness, Gaston is determined to marry her.

Then, one fateful day, her father disappears in the forest. Belle goes searching for him and stumbles upon a dark and scary castle. Venturing inside, she discovers a gallery of magical creatures - regular household objects that speak and move. There's Lumiere (James Meske), a candlestick with impeccable manners and a voice that recalls Maurice Chevalier; Cogsworth (Gabriel Manly), a clock with a high impression of himself and his role in the castle; Mrs. Potts (Jessica Pierini), a grandmotherly tea pot; and many others.

Then there's the Beast, the terrifying creature who rules over this domain and holds Maurice captive. Once a handsome prince, he has been cursed to remain a beast until he finds someone who truly loves him in spite of his appearance. Now, he is filled with equal parts hope and dread at Belle's arrival — hope that she might be "the one" to break the spell, and dread that she might be repulsed by his ugliness. Nevertheless, he agrees to release her father if she accedes to being his permanent guest. She makes the bargain, Maurice is set free, and she is trapped by the grisly and fearsome monster. Yet, there’s something sweet, and almost kind…

The narrative is propelled not only by the sound moral that "beauty is only skin deep" but also from the independent fiber of the Beauty herself, with her wanton wanderlust and an innate love of books, and from one who doesn’t pine away for a Prince Charming to lift her to her dreams. Unfortunately for those aspiring to win Belle’s hand, including the dim, narcissistic Gaston (Dillon Klena), that’s not good news.

Many of the other performances are equally winning, but a clear standout in this production is the preening comic villain Gaston with communicable relish. Lips smirking, muscles bulging, eyebrows arching — he’s easily the musical’s most animated feature as town bully and local heartthrob. Mr. Klena’s Gaston operates on high energy. As the town Adonis, Gaston gives the impression that he is inflated with helium and destined for a place of honor in the next Christmas Day Parade. He has piano keys for teeth, his eyes sparkle like flames and he preens and poses like Arnold. Whenever he socks his dopey sidekick, Lefou (Steven Ruvalcaba), you wince and automatically want to call for paramedics as he goes sprawling halfway across the stage.

The musical's strength, at least from Broadway's perspective, is the Academy Award-winning score by Menken and his partner, Howard Ashman, who died before work actually began on the stage version. Such songs as "Belle," "Be Our Guest" and "Gaston" are happy reminiscents of lyricists like Lerner and Loewe in a comparative “My Fair Lady” or “Camelot.” In order to bring out the sensitive side of the Beast and underscore Belle’s fortitude, Menken and Rice added seven scrumptious new numbers. All are by them except the seventh, “Human Again,” which is a Menken and Ashman song that was dropped from the film, and not surprisingly, one of the best additions to the musical, as the Beast’s servants express their longing for the spell to be broken so that they might regain their human forms.

Putting aside the fact that Belle here in the musical is a bit more of a handful than she appeared in the movie, all this moody business for the Beast pretty well defangs him for awhile (“Beauty and the Sensitive Guy?”). But when it looks as if pensive, town beauty Belle might break the curse by falling in love with the Beast, the housewares get pretty excited, thinking they may actually be turned back into their former selves. Before long, the spatula is cavorting with the forks, the rug is doing cartwheels and the dinner plates are spinning like arrogant showgirls, all in an extravagant production number entitled, "Be Our Guest," the first-act show-stopper. With lavishness close to delirium, and giddiness beyond camp, this one musical number elevates "Beauty and the Beast" to a realm of hallucinogenic jubilation and par excellence like no other musical before.

The technical stage work is masterful, jam-packed with effects which intermingle seamlessly. Through the background magic of crisp, clear, colorful digital projection created by Colby Nordberg, Busby Berkeley-styled choreography by William F. Lett, colorfully animated costumes from Kathryn Wilson, and makeup/hair design by Remy Fogelman, CSUF has recreated this grand, noble story right down to the ravenous wolves, the dancing spoons and forks and the enchanted rose that sheds its petals as true love's hope run low.

The scenery by Fred Kinney — mostly in that ornate, slightly scary German Gothic style that passes for picturesque at Disney — is almost always on the move. No apparition, disappearance, thunderbolt, rainstorm or swirling fog bank is beyond the capabilities of the show's special-effects engineers. And wait until the Beast (Jack O’Leary), presumably dead, rises up from the castle floor in the final scene, playing like a Las Vegas version of the Passion Play at Oberammergau: He levitates...He spins around in midair. Before you've caught your breath, he returns to Earth young and magnificent!

All of the acting is quintessential, thanks much to the expertise of Director Martie Ramm. Much of the movie's charm stems from the transforming of characters and the way objects are made to look and behave like people. In the case of Ms. Bollard, as the Disney heroine, being pretty, unspoiled and plucky (but never rude) is mostly what's required. In Mr. Klena’s world, Linda Woolverton’s book spends much time developing the Beast, making him a fuller character than he was in the movie. The change is summed up in Rice’s best lyric, “If I Can’t Love Her,” in which the un-enchanted Prince realizes that if he can’t love Belle, he’s got a real problem.

Mr. Narey, as her eccentric inventor father, limits himself largely to a dazed and bumbling manner. The others are variously done up as Ms. Potts (Ms. Pierini, giving one of the evening's warmest performance), Cogsworth (the amusing Mr. Manly), the overstuffed armoire Madame De La Grande Bouche (the imperious Natalie Giannosa), the sexy Feather Duster Babette (Corinn Szostkiewicz), Maître d’ and Golden Candelabrum Lumiere (the rather-too-excitable but oooh so good James Meske). In place of hands, Mr. Meske has melted candles that function as a source of heat, light, and periodically as flamethrowers. (This will help appease all those little boys in the audience who would just as soon Belle got lost in the woods.) The result is a sightseer's delight and a theatergoer's dream.

Mr. Klena plays the Beast with equal helpings of sadness and ferocity and with just the right hint of menace to balance the jokey silliness that sometimes creeps into his role in the second act. The Beast, despite his frightening appearance, isn't as terrible as he first appears. Inside of him beats the heart of a true hero, and, in an act of self-sacrifice when he risks his life for Belle, he displays his true nature. In the end, despite the matted fur, the padding and the protruding incisors, he actually manages to convey the delicacy of awakening love.

A feisty Babette is played by Corinn Szostkiewicz; Chip is played by Collin Higgins and Samantha Dorfman; Monsieur D’Arque is Seann Altman; The Three Silly Girls areTaylor Evans, Brianna Clark and Brooke Gatto.Understudies are Belle – Tayler Evans; Beast – Jonah Meyer; Gaston – Kai Rosales; Lefou – Ramon Solis; Maurice – William Hawkes; Lumiere – Damien Arteaga; Babette – Amanda Neiman; Mrs. Potts – Madison Stirrett; Madame de la Grande Bouche – Alana Ruhe; Monsieur D’Arque – Marion James Magtibay; Silly Girls – Sarika Mande, Helen McCormick, Casey Wathen. The Dance Captain is Brianna Clark.

Additional Ensemble Cast: Allie Wood, Allison King, Amanda Domb, Amanda Neiman, Brianna Clark, Brooke Gatto, Gabrielle Adner, Helen McCormick, Katherine Paladichuk, Madison Stirrett, Sidney Aaron Aptaker, Taylor Evans, Damien Arteaga, Jonah Meyer, Kai Rosales, Ramon Solis III, Seann Altman, Marlon James Magtibay, William Hawkes, Alana Ruhe, Audrey Forrester, Casey Wathen, December Hassler, Destiny Denny-Ellis, Emily Tripp, Felicity Bryant, Jessica Bustios, Jessica Kilgore, Layla Elefante, Maya Elizabeth Garza and Sarika Mande.

Beauty and the Beast plays through October 27th at Little Theatre on the campus of Cal State University Fullerton. Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice; book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Martie Ramm; Musical Direction by Corey Hirsch; Choreography by William F. Lett; Fight Choreography by Michael Polak; Technical Director is Russell Mackensen; Accompanist is Jennifer Schniepp; Sound Design by Adam Sack; Makeup/Hair by Remy Fogelman; Lighting Design by Jeffrey Teeter; Costume Design by Kathryn Wilson; Scenic Design by Fred Kinney. Costumes provided by Costume World Theatrical.

For ticket information, please see This show is highly recommended.

Chris Daniels

Arts Reviewer

The Show Report



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