Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Beauty and the Beast arrived on Broadway as a stage show in 1994, a live-action replica of Disney's smash 1991 animated film. The movie had been praised by many as a better musical than anything opening on Broadway that year, and in 1992 became the first animated film ever nominated for the Best Picture prize at the Oscars. The Disney folks took that encouragement to heart, and just three years later had not only a beast, but a clock, candelabra, teapot, plates, silverware, and even a wardrobe singing and dancing on stage. As a stage musical, Beauty and the Beast was dismissed by many critics, but not by the public. It ran for 13 years, and at the time of its closing had the sixth longest run in Broadway history.
In the well-known story, with origins as a French fairy tale, a handsome prince is placed under a spell by an enchantress for failing to extend kindness and hospitality to her. He is doomed to live life as a horrid beast, to be released from the spell only if he learns to love and is loved in return. A beautiful and good-hearted girl enters the Beast's domain and becomes his prisoner. In Disney's version, her name is Belle and she trades places with her absent-minded father, who got lost in the woods and was captured by the Beast for trespassing on his grounds. Belle despises her captor, but her beauty and kindness draw out his inner longing for love and gentle nature. The rest is fairy tale history. The story is fleshed out with Gaston, a brutish town lothario with his sights set on Belle, and the Beast's army of talking household goods, his former domestic staff transformed by the same spell that turned him from prince to monster.
Beauty and the Beast has a bountiful, hummable score by composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, including the lovely and iconic title song. The opening number "Belle" grandly lays out everything we need to know about our heroine and her world, and "Be My Guest" provides fabulous French music-hall style entertainment. Several songs were added to those familiar from the movie, including Belle's beautiful, heartfelt lament "Home," the Beast's soul-searching "If I Can't Love Her," a cheering duet for Belle and her father Maurice ("No Matter What"), and a second opportunity for the plates, cups, napkins, salt and pepper shakers, and all the rest to sing and dance when they imagine being "Human Again." Linda Woolverton wrote the musical's book with great fidelity to her screenplay for the film.
Under Michael Brindisi's steady direction, all of the fantasy is presented as the most natural thing in the world, suspending disbelief as we simply enjoy the spectacle before us. Tamara Kangas Erickson's endlessly inventive choreography gives the energetic ensemble a chance to shine again and again, not only as magically talented housewares, but as slithery wolves in the woods, and villagers celebrating Gaston's questionable charms with a nifty sequence involving clanking tankards. The inevitable battle between stirred up villagers and enchanted housewares is staged with keystone cops comic flair.
Chanhassen has assembled a top drawer cast for this rollicking remount of its successful production over ten years ago. Ruthanne Heyward has a gorgeous voice (though perhaps a bit too much "belt" for a fairy-tale maiden), but moreover, creates a multi-dimensioned heroine, plucky and dreamy, romantic and practical, strong and tender. She is a damsel who can handle distress. Robert O. Berdahl is winning as the Beast. Though he is never quite so believably frightening in the early going as he could be, his internal transformation as he develops actual feelings of love for Belle is clearly evident in Berdahl's performance, and he delivers the beautiful "If I Can't Love Her" with heartsick tenderness.
Keith Rice does a wonderful job as Belle's father Maurice, and Aleks Knezevich steals every scene he is in as the wince-inducing blowhard Gaston, bringing both strong voice and broad comic flair to the part. As his sidekick Lefou, the delightful Daniel S. Hines seems to have rubber bands for bones, as he bounces about in slapstick fashion. Mark King as the candelabra Lumiere and Ann Michels as the housemaid turned feather duster Babette are an adorable flirtatious coupleand King handles emcee duties for "Be Our Guest" with Gallic aplomb. Scott Blackburn is perfectly fastidious as butler turned mantle clock Cogsworth, and as Mrs. Potts, the housekeeper turned teapot, Susan Hofflander has the countenance for counselling Belle to soothe the savage Beast, and a warmly emotive voice to do justice to the beloved title song.
Strong as this cast is, the real star of Beauty and the Beast> is costume designer Rich Hamson. His giddy imagination is especially given free rein in designing the enchanted objects, from twirling plates to a cart-wheeling tablecloth, to the voluminous wardrobe chest. But he does just as well in creating fearsome wolves, folkloric villagers, extravagant gowns and, of course, an imposing Beast. Sue Ellen Berger's lighting design sets the tone from frightful to jubilant, and the Nayna Ramey's flexible set design serves the show well, but if one could leave a show humming the costumes, this would be the one.
While not a great musical in the classic mold like Theater Latté Da's just-closed Gypsy, nor a high spirited show with a contemporary vibe like Chanhassen's recent Sister Act, Beauty and the Beast is wonderfully entertaining, especially suited for younger children, but with plenty to be enjoyed by all ages. If you have not seen it before, or have youngsters in your midst who have never had the pleasure, you would be well advised to take Lumiere and company's advice, journey out to Chanhassen and "be their guest."
Beauty and the Beast continues through, September 24, 2016, at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, 501 West 78th Street, Chanhassen, MN. Tickets including dinner and show: $64.00- $85.00. Show-only tickets: $49.00 - $70.00. Check website for senior and student discounts. For tickets call 952-934-1525, toll-free 1-800-362-3515, or go to www.chanhassendt.com.
Music: Alan Menken; Lyrics: Howard Ashman and Tim Rice; Book: Linda Woolverton; Original Direction: Robert Jess Roth; Director: Michael Brandisi; Choreographer: Tamara Kangas Erickson; Music Director: Andrew Cooke; Set Design: Nayna Ramey; Costume Design: Rich Hamson; Lighting Design: Sue Ellen Berger; Sound Design: Russ Haynes; Wig and Make-up Design: Susan Magnuson; Production Stage Manager: Dan Foss.
Cast: Mathias Anderson (Wolf, Pepper Shaker, Courtier), Josie Axelson (Gargoyle), Tommy Benson (Fork, Villager), Robert O. Berdahl (Beast), Scott Blackburn (Cogsworth), David Anthony Brinkley (Monsieur D'Arque), Serena Brook (Vase, Villager), Jessica Fredrickson (Spoon, Courtier), Larissa Gritti (Silly Girl, Wolf, Plate, Courtier), Timmy Hayes (Silly Girl, Plate, Villager), Rico Heisler (Champagne Bottle, Villager), Ruthanne Heyward (Belle), Daniel S. Hines (Lefou), Melanie Hoffa (Gargoyle), Susan Hofflander (Mrs. Potts), Delaney Hunter (Gargoyle), Mark King (Lumiere), Aleks Knezevich (Gaston), Lars Lee (Wolf, Salt Shaker, Villager), Ann Michels (Babette), Adam Moen (Gargoyle, Creamer), William Nida (Chip), Sean Nugent (Sugar Bowl, Villager, Courtier), Zoey Paulson (Gargoyle), Keith Rice (Maurice), Laura Rudolph (Serving Tray, Villager), Thomas Schumacher (Knife, Villager, Courtier), Alyssa Seifert (Wolf, Plate, Villager, Courtier), Andre Shoals (Storyteller, Chair, Villager), Emily Rose Skinner (Madame de la Grande Bouche), Jay Soulen (Chip), Brandyn Tapio (Wolf, Carpet), Maura White (Champagne Glass, Napkin, Gargoyle).