Beauty and the Beast

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater
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Watching Beauty and the Beast through the eyes of a four-year old gives a greater dimension to the special qualities of Disney's treatment of the classic story that truly is 'a tale as old as time.' With eyes covered when the Beast appears to a heartfelt sigh of relief when he rescues Beauty from a pack of ferocious wolves, a child can peer into a world where fantasy becomes clear and human emotions are universal.

 

Beginning with Belle's (Laurie Veldheer) complaint about her provincial life, "Belle," but finding her joy in books, the story progresses as any good Disney story would. There's a villain, Gaston (Matthew Ragas ), who wants to marry Belle. He has the obligatory goofy sidekick and punching bag, Lefou (Justin Cowden ). There's a  slightly lovable papa, Maurice (Joey D'Auria), who is misunderstood by the townsfolk with his crazy inventions but beloved by his daughter. They agree that being different or eccentric is perfectly ok.

 

When Maurice journeys into the woods, he takes refuge in a castle which belongs to a prince (Todd Adamson) who has been enchanted by an old crone for his arrogance and selfishness and turned into an ugly beast. What makes the Disney version fun is that everything in the castle is enchanted as well, giving rise to some clever characterizations.

There's Lumiere (Josh Grisetti), a kindly but slightly rebellious candelabra who allows Maurice to stay against the advice of Cogsworth  (Phillip Taratula), a fussy majordomo who is a wind-up clock. Mrs Potts (Alexandra Melrose) is the warmhearted cook who is transformed into a teapot along with her little boy, Chip (a delightful Kaine Koltoniuk), who provides comfort to Belle when she is coerced into staying in the place of her father. A love interest for Lumiere is Babette (Sara King), a French featherduster, and Madame de la Grande Bouche (Chelle Denton) is a vain opera singer who is changed into a dressing table. She offers some high notes and a repeat message that vanity can be your undoing.

Accompanying the narcissistic Gaston are three silly girls: Carly Haig, Tayler Mettra, and Antonia Vivino. As Belle has spurned Gaston as a future groom, they are competing for his attention.

These enchanted characters provide charm for the story, some humor for adults as well as children, and an opportunity to do some fancy dancing in production numbers that give the show its dazzle on stage. Mention needs to be made of the large and capable additional ensemble members who double as townsfolk and culinary utensils after enchantment (Quinton Craig, Chaz Feurstine, Anthony Gabriel, Veronica Gutierrez, Julie Hackett, Brandon Halvorsen, Antoine, Lee, Adrianna Rose Lyons, Dylan Pass, and Mackenzie Perpich). Notable is Jay Robinson as an acrobatic carpet.

Though the story of Beauty and the Beast has had countless permutations over the 4,000 or so years it has been around, its 20th century appeal comes from the story of a young girl who finds her life's adventure in rescuing the enchanted prince from a witch's spell. In the hands of Disney, even though it alludes to some of the darker elements of the story, it focuses on the message that true meaning can come from looking beyond the surface.

Renowned music (Alan Menken) and lyrics (Howard Ashman and Tim Rice) give the show its energy. Linda Wolverton's book is both humorous and fairytale perfect.

For Disney glitz it's hard to beat "Be Our Guest," where the castle's residents prepare a feast for Beauty as plates, utensils, and assorted dinner accoutrements. Mrs. Potts' evocative "Beauty and the Beast" gives emotional heft to the message about love and acceptance and is the song that endures beyond the stage.

In order to feature Gaston as worthy of evil intent, "Gaston" delivers another big production number in a tavern with co-villain Monsieur D'Arque (Michael Stone Forrest), the keeper of the local asylum and a particularly sinister character, who agrees to take Maurice so that Gaston will be able to force Belle to marry him. Though this number has plenty of humor and color, it can be a jarring diversion from the central storyline, as Beauty and the Beast are finding friendship and love with one another.

For the La Mirada production Jean-Yves Tessier adds his considerable skill to the lighting, and Josh Bessom provides essential sound design. Projection design (Jonathan Infante) and Properties Design (Kevin Williams) give the show its notable special effects. Katie McCoy's wigs and Denice Paxton's make-up add a plus to Maine State Music Theatre's costumes. Musical direction by Darryl Archibald gives the show its Broadway flair, and Robbie Roby's choreography requires some fancy footwork.

Director Michael Heitzman brings out the special qualities required to give this story its emotional core as special effects take center stage. He is fortunate to be directing both Veldheer and Adamson as principals. Both have fine musical skills, and Adamson's "If I Can't Love Her" showcases the rich timbre and power of his voice. Veldheer is a perfect Disney princess with a lovely soprano. Adamson gives his Beast a friendlier interpretation as he copes with his return to the polite world.

Ragas makes a satisfactory villain, and Cowden is a comic second banana. D'Auria's dotty Maurice is well delivered as well. Grisetti, Taratula, and Melrose all shine as the manipulators of the romance that will break the spell. Their portrayals drive the magic of the fantasy with some real-world sophistication. Denton and King also add flavor to the storyline.

As with all good fantasy stories, endings are happy and love triumphs. The original Beauty and the Beast ran for 13 years on Broadway and has become a staple of regional theaters over the globe with a full compliment of collectible dolls, souvenirs, t-shirts, and the like. This is a show that draws children and adults to the theater with happy anticipation, and La Mirada delivers all that could be hoped for.

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. La Mirada. Performances are Tues., Wed., Thurs., at 7:30; Fri. at 8; Sat. at 2 and 8; Sun at 2. Additional perfs. on Sun.June 9 and Sun. June 16 at 7 and Fri. June 21 at 1 pm. No perfs. on Tues. June 18. Tickets $27-99. Call 562-944-9801 or 714-994-6310 or buy online at www.lamiradatheatre.com. Free parking.