Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman
& Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton
Arts Club Theatre Company
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
November 17– January 22
$29 – 59.50
Boy, is the Arts Club ever on a roll these days. Every one of its fall shows has been a knockout, and now, tackling Disney’s lush cartoon musical version of Beauty and the Beast, director Bill Millerd and company get just about everything right. If ever there were a surefire holiday hit, this is it.
Since opening in 1994, Disney’s theatrical adaptation of its Oscar-winning animated feature has played to six million people on Broadway alone. The classic fairy tale provides an irresistible plot, and the wonderfully vivid movie characters like Gaston and Lumiere lose none of their luster in being translated to the stage.
The homogenization suggested by the title’s corporate branding seems reflected only in a certain blandness in Alan Menken’s music, especially around the central characters. But that’s hardly a problem when there’s so much else here to enjoy.
Visually, this may be the most stylish production yet staged at the Stanley. Rebekka Sorensen provides a multitude of fiendishly imaginative costumes, from the dancing tableware to Babette’s amazing harlequinesque outfit and Belle’s golden gown. Marsha Sibthorpe’s elaborate lighting nicely serves Alison Green’s array of excellent cartoon set pieces, especially during scene changes when the action moves from village to forest, or the set revolves to take us inside the Beast’s marvelous castle.
Amy Wallis has an exceptionally lovely voice, and her Belle is ably matched by Warren Kimmel’s rugged Beast. Though none of their songs is particularly memorable and their relationship doesn’t catch fire until Act Two, the fairy tale ending totally hooked me.
As so often the case with musicals, the romance plot proves less engaging than the colourful supporting cast. Jonathan Winsby’s ultra-vain Gaston is an absolute hoot in his padded muscle-suit, a kind of Elvis Schwarzenegger. Winsby’s fine baritone graces a couple of the most entertaining production numbers, including the aptly titled “Gaston,” accompanied by the good work of Dan Costain as his sidekick, LeFou.
The stage show, like the movie, is most magical in the presence of the characters in Beast’s castle who are slowly being transformed into things: the maid Babette (Sara-Jean Hosie) with a toilet plunger growing out of her head, Madame de la Grande Bouche (Dorothy Hosie), a living chest of drawers, the teacup Chip (Jessica Marino), and his mother Mrs. Potts (Susan Anderson, who sings the title song beautifully). Their big number, “Be Our Guest,” is a Radio City Music Hall-style spectacle with a full chorus showing off Valerie Easton’s lively choreography and Bruce Kellett’s tight six-piece orchestra.
And centre-stage are Cogsworth, the clockwork butler, played with wonderful comic texture by Shawn Macdonald, and the real star of this show for my money, Matt Palmer as Lumiere, the human candelabra, with his Inspector Clouseau accent and hilarious deadpan expressions.
Disney or not, this one really is a beauty.