At Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) until August 27, 2016
Posted August 8, 2016
Absolutely beastly was the traffic jam last Thursday evening: gridlock on 1st Avenue, Hastings Street and all the side streets as frustrated drivers tried to get to the Second Narrows Bridge or, in our case, to Theatre Under the Stars where five tickets awaited us for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. A trip that usually takes an hour, took more than two. We arrived four minutes late but the curtain was held because of the traffic and it didn’t rain as predicted – beautiful!
Brian Ball’s set is straight out of a fairytale picture book: cottages, a grim castle, scary woods, a sumptuous dining hall and a ballroom all a-twinkle with a big chandelier. Lighting designer Gerald King outdoes himself with fireworks exploding out of huge, painted champagne bottles and, later, with fireworks and strobes and things that go ‘Bang’ in the night.
La Belle et la Bête was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740; sixteen years later it was abridged and much shortened by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and it is this later version that has made its way into popular culture, notably Walt Disney’s 1991 animated film entitled Beauty and the Beast, adapted for stage in 1993. Another Theatre Under the Stars – in Houston, Texas – first produced it; now it is here, in Malkin Bowl, telling a legend that scholars say is 4,000 years old.
There’s a lot I don’t know about musicals and ‘underscoring’ is one of them. Music director and conductor Wendy Bross Stuart briefly explained it to me: in some musicals it’s talk, talk, talk, song, talk, talk, another song and so on. Beauty and the Beast is, on the other hand, underscored; there is music all the time, enhancing the action, and it periodically breaks into a song. It’s a workout for both orchestra and conductor. Bross confided she actually has to conduct squatting down to avoid being hit by those aforementioned fireworks. Bross and her eleven-piece orchestra do Alan Menken’s music proud.
Of course, it’s a romantic story: Belle’s father falls on hard times and is captured by the Beast, a prince who has had a spell put on him due to an act of unkindness. Belle insists on the Beast swapping her for her father and so she is taken prisoner in the Beast’s castle. Slowly the Beast is tamed but Belle’s self-absorbed would-be wooer Gaston decides to kill the Beast. The Beast is wounded, Belle declares her love for him, he revives and is transformed into the handsome prince he used to be. And they all live happily ever after.
The story is, well, soppy but you’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel sympathy when Peter Monaghan, the Beast/prince, pours his heart out in “If I Can’t Love Her”. Monaghan has a magnificent voice that blends beautifully with soprano Jaime Piercy’s Belle. Dane Szohner’s Gaston is appropriately posturing and thick-as-a-brick while Gaston’s sidekick Lefou (Nicholas Bradbury) takes acrobatic pratfall after pratfall.
Absolutely outstanding is Victor Hunter as Lumière, the maître d’ that is gradually being transformed into a candelabra. Hunter shimmies and wriggles like one of those plastic blow-up creatures that invite you into used car lots. He lays on the French accent as thick as paté on a baguette. Lumière hangs out with steady-as-she-goes Cogsworth (Steven Greenfield), Babette (Lauren Gula), Mrs. Potts (Sheryl Anne Wheaton), Chip (Bodhi Cutler) and Madame de la Grande Bouche (Caroline Buckingham).
Shelley Stewart Hunt’s choreography is charming and pretty as are Chris Sinosich’s costumes – especially Belle’s gorgeous yellow satin gown.
Under the direction of Shel Piercy, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the complete TUTS package: hot chocolate or coffee, popcorn, the stars overhead, the stars onstage and a really great show. Super family entertainment.