REVIEW: Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" — La Mirada Theatre
“...Here’s where she meets Prince Charming, but she won’t discover that it’s him ’til chapter three!” – Belle
“Beauty and the Beast,” as the Oscar-winning song goes, is a tale as old as time. The centuries-old fairytale is a story of transformative love, and of learning to see someone’s inner beauty, along with a happy ending in blessed matrimony with a handsome prince. As such, it was virtually tailor-made for Disney. The studio’s 1991 Best Picture-nominated film remains arguably the greatest of its animated works, somehow managing to adhere to a rigid musical formula while injecting atmosphere, deep characterization, and beautifully written, intelligent songs.
Then, adapted from the Walt Disney Pictures blockbuster, as well as the 1756 classic French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the 1994 musical, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was born, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton. Critics, who hailed it as one of the year's finest musicals, immediately noted that Menken had composed six additional new songs for the production alongside lyricist Rice.
That musical, currently playing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment through June 23rd, directed by Michael Heitzman, choreographed by Robbie Roby and musically directed by Darryl Archibald, still has the ability to enchant an audience of children. And, apparently, plenty of adults too, as the roar was primarily from the audience during the theatre’s most recent performance.
Much of that credit goes accordingly to an engaging cast, pulling off some honest adult emotions from the show’s broad, fabled roots about a cold-blooded prince who has been magically transformed into an unsightly, nightmarish creature as punishment for his selfish ways. But if you are one of the six people in America who doesn't know the plot, that a wicked witch has transformed the handsome prince into a cross between Quasimodo and a buffalo, and the staff of the castle is slowly turning into sundry household objects, then some remedial reading is in order.
Laurie Veldheer is particularly charming with a beautifully clear voice, a pretty face, and supple elegance, utterly becoming the resourceful and bookish damsel, Belle, who stumbles upon the hirsute, cursed Beast. Todd Adamson takes on the powerful, menacing aura of the Beast full of self-doubt and self-loathing as his wounded heart comes out in terrifying expressions of rage. But Belle’s love holds the power to lift the spell and return the fanged creature back into the prince as before.
While the tale of “Beauty and the Beast” is not fraught with psychological complexities, Linda Woolverton's book expands her screenplay to the musical without noticeably deepening it. Only the primary emotions and the most elemental reactions stand a chance of holding their own against the bustle and blazing pyrotechnics, anyway. The miracle of Mr. Adamson's performance is not its epic monstrousness or the fury of his amplified roars. It's miraculous because somehow, despite the masses of matted fur and the padding, he actually manages to convey the delicacy of awakening love and a vulnerable undercurrent despite his heavy animal-like makeup, mane and horns protruding out of his head. His strong baritone adds emotional depth to the prince's plight, and he noticeably softens as he begins to fall for Belle.
Still, you wonder what Belle sees in this Beast (besides his oversized library), until he finally allows her to return to her father. But such concerns are swept away in the penultimate battle scene, a spectacular showdown in the damp air as the clock ticks toward the enchantment's deadline.
The real villain of the piece is the dashing but devious Gaston (Matthew Ragas), who pursues the plucky Belle relentlessly, accompanied by the simpleminded LeFou (Justin Cowden), as the ultimate toady who does everything Gaston commands, even to the detriment of his own health and safety. Ironically, LeFou seems to be more interested in Gaston than Belle would ever be, landing himself into a great deal of bromance territory.
"How can you read this? There's no pictures!" Gaston tells Belle as he glares at her book. Belle, for her part, has a whole song, “No Matter What,” about how there's no way on earth she's going to marry an oaf like Gaston. The funny thing with Gaston is that he might have been a hero in another life. The villagers all look up to him, he's incredibly handsome, and as a hunter, he's probably been keeping everyone's larder well stocked for those cold winters. What's not to like?
Oh, right, the narcissism, the ego, the selfishness, and the general assumption that everyone on earth is there to make him happy. Got it. Gaston's subversion of the traditional Disney hero makes his status as antagonist all the more interesting, emphasizing the musical’s larger theme that real beauty is found from within.
It's said to have cost $12 million to bring the cinematic magic to the stage when "Beauty and Beast" opened on Broadway, and it shows. This is a Disney spectacle at its finest and most sumptuous — perhaps off-putting to some theatrical purists, but excessively entertaining nonetheless. A charming French village, a darkened forest with howling wolves, talking appliances that look like the high end rack out of Bed, Bath & Beyond, and an imposing castle — all brought to magical life on the high-tech set. And not only does the lavish 2 1/2-hour show feature Disney's most modern heroine, it also features some of the best tunes in the entire Disney songbook.
The stage version includes two new numbers that further humanizes the Beast, dramatically rendered by Mr. Adamson — the sentimental, "If I Can't Love Her," and "How Long Must this Go On?" But what makes this show so enduring are songs like the liltingly romantic, "Beauty and the Beast," sung by Mrs. Potts (the warmly knowing Alexandra Melrose), the boisterous "Gaston" (sung by Mr. Ragas and Mr. Cowden, with just the right amount of cocky bombast, accompanied by a foot-stomping, mug-clanking pub of townsfolk) and Belle's familiar, self-titled girl-power anthem, sung with a pitch-perfect mix of innocence and determination by Ms. Veldheer.
Yet as perfectly cast as Ms. Veldheer is, another cast member steals the spotlight, er, candlelight: Josh Grisetti as the winky, flirty Lumiere. Long and lanky in his Louis XVI simmering, golden-plated Brocade suit and candlestick hands that keep lighting up, Lumiere provides much of the show's comic relief and dazzle. Not only that, he gets the best song production, the delightfully campy Busby Berkeley song-and-dance number, "Be Our Guest," the first act showstopper.
Before long, the spatula is cavorting with the forks, the rug is doing cartwheels and the dinner plates are parading like arrogant showgirls in a Vegas number. It’s lavishness that knows no shame; giddiness beyond camp, close to delirium. The song extravaganza, hosted by maître d’ Lumiere, elevates “Beauty and the Beast” to a realm of hallucinogenic supremacy in musical theatre that is tough to beat.
But Lumiere is just one of the singing, swinging inanimate objects populating the Beast’s abode. The servants also double as sidekicks for Belle and the Beast, helping them solve little problems like what to wear, what to have for dinner, and how to defend your home from a rampaging mob of fear-crazed yokels. Particularly in charge of household affairs is the fussbudget grandfather clock, Cogsworth (the amusing Phillip Taratula). Rotund Teapot Mrs. Potts (Alexandra Melrose), no doubt, comes up as second in charge, and is also mother-hen to her young teacup son, Chip (Kaine Koltoniuk), who gets pushed on a serving cart much of the night.
Rounding out the servants’ quarters is Madame de la Grande Bouche (the luminous Chelle Denton), playing her part as an overstuffed armoire with a comedic operatic flair, all the while belting La Traviata, and Babette (Sara King), as the French ‘oo-lala’ feather duster and girlfriend to Lumiere.
Joey D’Auria, as Belle’s eccentric inventor father, Maurice, portrays himself largely in a dazed and bumbling manner. Maurice accompanies Belle in her defiantly, declarative number, “No Matter What,” with Maurice following the song with an immediate reprise. The two connected authentically as father and daughter, with Maurice having a pivotal subplot in the show.
Michael Stone Forrest heinously plays Monsieur D’Arque, a tertiary antagonist in the show, the head of the local insane asylum. “So you want me to throw her father into the asylum unless she agrees to marry you? (groannn) Oh, that’s despicable! I LOVE IT!” …Get the picture?
Much of the charm in the show stems from the way objects are made to look and behave like people. Or vice versa. Even Mr. Ragas’ animated Gaston, the town Adonis, gives the impression that he is inflated with helium and destined for a place of honor in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. He has piano keys for teeth, his pompadour rises off his forehead like a tidal wave and he preens like Arnold. Whenever he socks his dopey sidekick, Mr. Cowden’s Lefou, the sound technicians provide the sort of "pows" and "thwunks" that you normally hear when Popeye flattens Bluto. Lefou, naturally, goes sprawling halfway across the stage.
An assortment of other household goods in the castle are made up by the Ensemble, who also switch-hit in the bar scenes, mob scenes, skirmishes, choruses and dances. That well-talented group includes Quintan Craig, Chaz Feuerstine, Anthony Gabriel, Chad Geiger, Veronica Gutierrez, Julie Hackett, Carly Haig, Brandon Halvorsen, Antoine Lee, Adrianna Rose Lyons, Tayler Mettra, Dylan Pass, Mackenzie Perpich and Antonia Vivino. The Three Silly Girls are played by Carly Haig, Tayler Mettra and Antonia Vivino.
Scenic Design is by Front Row Rental (Brian Strauss); Lighting Design by Jean-Yves Tessier; Sound Design by Josh Bessom; Projection Design by Jonathan Infante; Costume Design by MSMT (Travis Grant); Hair Design by Katie McCoy; Makeup Design by Denice Paxton; Properties Design by Kevin Williams. The Casting Director is Julia Flores and the Production Stage Manager is Jill Gold.
Production design, costumes, special effects, editing, orchestrations and action have been meticulously crafted to deliver the ultimate Disney classic story. “Beauty and the Beast” is not afraid to be exactly what it is: a blast from the past for a time that desperately needs some good old fashioned fun. Yes, it may indeed be a "tale as old as time," but in this case, it’s nice that its time has come again.
Performances are set for Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm & 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. Additional performances will be on Sunday, June 9 and Sunday, June 16 at 7 pm; Friday, June 21 at 1 pm. No performance is set for Tuesday, June 18, but an Open-Captioned performance is set for Saturday, June 15 at 2 pm and an ASL-interpreted performance on Saturday, June 22 at 2 pm. Talkbacks with the cast and creative team will be on Wednesday, June 19. Tickets may be purchased at http://lamiradatheatre.com/tickets/ This show has the ultimate recommendation!
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in La Mirada, near the intersection of Rosecrans Avenue where the 91 and 5 freeways meet. Parking is free.
The Show Report
Photos by Jason Niedle