Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Disney's Beauty and the Beast
If you need a refresher on the plot, the story begins outside a castle on a stormy night when the vain and arrogant Prince turns away a hideous beggar woman who comes to his door seeking shelter. When she later reveals herself as an enchantress, she casts a spell on him and everyone else in his castle, turning him into a monstrous Beast and his servants into inanimate objects. The spell will only be broken if the Beast can learn to love another and earn her love in return.
Many years later, in a nearby village, Belle dreams of escaping her small provincial town and the simple-minded people who live there, especially the boastful and boorish Gaston. When her father finds himself lost in the woods one day, he stumbles upon the Beast's castle and is imprisoned by the Beast. Belle sacrifices herself to free her father and in time finds that the Beast may not be as horrible as he seems. But can their growing love break the spell?
Having seen the animated film and the musical numerous times, I'm always impressed at how well the the 84-minute film–with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, and a screenplay by Linda Woolverton–was fleshed out into a full two-act musical, with added songs and dialogue to give depth and understanding to the characters, especially the Beast. Tim Rice's lyrics for the new songs fit in perfectly with the originals; the new songs, particularly "If I Can't Love Her" for the Beast and "Change in Me" for Belle, are all excellent.
Brie Wadsworth-Gates has appeared in numerous Hale productions and she is excellent as Belle. With a spunky disposition and smart line readings, Wadsworth-Gates brings this determined, lively, and intelligent woman vibrantly to life. Her singing voice soars, with gorgeous and clear sustained notes; her delivery of "A Change in Me" is exceptional. Even though he's hidden under fairly elaborate facial make-up and a large bushy wig, Zac Bushman does a wonderful job in giving the snarling, crabby, and aloof Beast some nuance and depth. Bushman's singing voice is strong and lovely, delivering a moving and crowd-pleasing version of "If I Can't Love Her" that ends the first act, and his physical demeanor and slouched-over walk contribute to an effective portray of this beastly man.
In the supporting cast, Brandt Norris and Raymond Barcelo are hilarious as the charming, lively, and romantic candlestick Lumière and the dramatic, doubting, and worrisome clock Cogsworth, respectively. Cameron Rollins and Joshua South are having a blast as the conceited and boorish Gaston and his comical sidekick Lefou. Rollins' strong vocals and good comic timing work well and South doesn't make Lefou too broad, which is a huge plus; South's excellent acrobatic abilities are also on display when he appears as the tumbling rug in the "Be Our Guest" number.
As Mrs. Potts, Kathleen Richards is warm and caring and delivers a lovely performance of the show's title tune. James Brown Jr. is sweet as Belle's father Maurice, Amanda Valenzuela and Ivana Martinic are humorous as the vivacious and sexy Babette and the slightly conceited but lovable Madame De La Grande Bouche, and Douglas Vinson is completely endearing as Chip. The members of the hardworking ensemble play an abundance of roles with ease.
Director and choreographer Cambrian James always does good work and here his direction keeps the cast's portrayals close enough to the well-known and iconic film characterizations but also allows them to provide some original touches that add to the humor and charm in the show. His dances provide numerous moments that are showstoppers, and Cathy Hauan's music direction delivers rich notes from the entire cast. Celia Erickson's costumes and James' wig and make-up designs manage to bring the beloved screen characters to life. James' makeup for the Beast is stellar and his make-up for the supporting characters, especially Martinic's Madame De La Grande Bouche, is bright and whimsical. McKenna Carpenter's scenic design immediately immerses the audience in this fantasy world, with stone arches and village storefronts and buildings on the entrance ways and sides of the in-the-round theatre and several large set elements that form the Beast's castle and other locales. Ryan Terry's lush lighting and the clear sound design and realistic projections by Boyd Cluff help to create the fairy-tale environs.
With a superb cast, excellent direction, and wonderful creative aspects, this Beauty and the Beast is one of the best shows I've seen at Hale Centre Theatre. It fully brings the imaginary world of the film to life on stage and clearly delivers the important message of the film–that beauty is really found within.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast runs through August 19, 2023, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181
Music by Alan Menken