Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Welcome to the wonderful world of Walt Disney and one of the first of his animated movie musicals to be brought to life as a musical on Broadway back on April 19, 1994. Based on the 1991 Disney movie, the play tells the story of the story of a spell cast on a prince which transformed him into a ferocious Beast.
He must love and be love before the last petal on the rose falls or doomed to remain a beast for eternity. Into his life comes the beautiful, bookish Belle. They must learn to love each other even after he makes her a prisoner in his desolate castle. Belle could melt the polar ice-cap and indeed, even his heart. But will she be able to see beneath his gruff exterior the warmth he hides inside or will he be doomed to be a beast forever? Add in some colorful characters including her inventor father, Maurice, the town strong man, Gaston, his hilarious sidekick, Lefou and the enchanted servants of the Beast which have been turned into household fixtures at the castle and you have the ingredients for the marvelous musical masterpiece that greets you at Bill Hanney’s historic Theatre by the Sea which is now in its 84th season. Director Bob Richard, musical director Jesse Warkentin and choreographer Diane Laurenson combine their expertise together with a brilliant mixture of comedy and pathos to entertain audiences of all ages. The audience leaps to their feet at the curtain call as their reward on this multitalented cast. Bravo!
Bob casts these roles with multitalented performers and obtains outstanding performances from them especially in the transformation of the three leading players with Belle from naivity to maturity, with the Beast from animalistic behavior to loving and warm behavior and with Gaston from loving to villainous behavior. Jesse not only conducts a 7 piece orchestra but also plays lead keyboards and makes the cast members shine in their numbers both solo and choral ones. Diane’s superb choreography includes kick line, soft shoe, can can, waltz and a tango to name a few. The outstanding leads for his show are Lauren Weinberg and Philip Bryan. Gorgeous Lauren Weinberg has a phenomenal soprano voice as Belle. Her voice knocks your socks off in her lovely numbers. The audience first meets her in “Belle” where we learns she loves to read books and the townspeople find her odd, “Is This Home” where she laments being held prisoner in the castle, and “A Change in Me” where she finally finds out she and the Beast have much more in common than she first thought. Lauren’s strong acting prowess displays that Belle is head strong at first but finally sees the inner beauty of the Beast to rescue him from a cruel fate. Lauren and Philip make these characters so true to life that they bring tears to your eyes when the Beast releases her to rescue her father from the insane asylum. Philip Bryan is fabulous as the Beast with his powerful tenor voice which soars off the charts at the end of his solo at the end of Act 1. He is frightening and threatening at first and then makes the transition to sympathetic and kind over time due to the influence of his servants and Belle’s nurturing personality. The comic touches Bob adds to the Beast behavior change is wonderful to behold. Philip’s speaking and singing voice are authoritative as the master of the castle. His dynamic solo “If I Can’t Have Her” soars off the charts with its power and pathos, evoking empathy for his character. The transformation from Beast into a handsome Prince is splendid as he levitates into the air and returns to the stage as the handsome prince. Lauren and Philip have great chemistry together which wins them the cheers of the audience at the end of the show.
Thom Warren plays Belle’s absent minded father, Maurice who gets lost in the woods, chased by wolves and imprisoned by the Beast. Belle takes his place and when he is rescued by Belle, finds out she has fallen for a gentler, kinder Beast. Thom and Lauren sing a heartfelt tender ballad “No Matter What” about having each other to depend on. Wayne Hu does an excellent job as the egomaniac, muscleman Gaston who wants to marry Belle whether she wants to or not. The character is comic at first but then becomes more sinister when his braggadocio doesn’t work on Belle and he decides to have Maurice declared insane and to kill the Beast, too. Wayne’s constant flexing and preening as Gaston is hilarious and he also has real muscles to pull off this role. His powerful voice is heard “Me” where he woos Belle with his conceited and loutish behavior while winning many laughs. Wayne and the chorus do a rousing dance in “Gaston” with beer mugs which is amazing and then in Act 2, he sings “Maison de Lunes” with Lefou and D’Arque and rouses the rabble in “The Mob” song. However since this is a Disney musical, the evil villain must atone for his misdeeds and Gaston is vanquished by the Beast at last. The silly girls who fall for him, hook, line and sinker are wonderfully played by Julia Feeley, Sarah Warrick and Janelle Yull. They bring these bubble headed bimbos to life in “Gaston” which is led by the scene stealing, Josh Walker as Lefou. As Gaston’s sidekick, Josh is beaten up, thrown about and does more pratfalls than humanly possible, winning sustained laughter while doing so. His facial expressions are priceless, too. His comic timing is impeccable and he leads the chorus in “Gaston” while singing in “Maison de Lunes” and “The Mob” songs with Wayne. Michael Perrie Jr. who did a comic turn as Marcellus in “The Music Man” plays the evil D’Arque who wants to commit Maurice to the nuthouse in “Maison de Lunes” displaying his versatility as an actor as well as showing off his powerful voice, too. Michael is reminiscent of Fagan singing “I’m Reviewing the Situation” during this song and he also dances throughout the show, too.
The servants of the Beast are splendidly portrayed in this musical, too. Ellen Peterson plays the kindly, Mrs. Potts while clad in a teapot costume. She dotes on Belle and encourages her master to have a relationship with the girl. Ellen’s lovely voice is heard in “Be Our Guest” as well in the Oscar winning song “Beauty and the Beast” where Lauren and Philip do a grand waltz during it. She gives the role the warmth it needs. Her son, Chip is played by Reid Taylor who is ten years old. As Chip, he sings in the chorus numbers but has solo lines in “Human Again.” Reid brings the audience to tears when he comes in as a little boy again at the end of the show. Josh Houghton does a terrific job as Lumiere with his flawless French accent and leads “Be Our Guest” which stops the show with its power and punch. He also woos the sexy Babette played wonderfully by Melissa Jones. They do a marvelous tango in the show. Jeffrey Johnson II is a hoot as the constantly, worrying, Cogsworth while clad in a clock costume. The operatic voice of Stacey Geer is heard as Madame La Grande Bouche. Stacey dresses up as Brunhilde to defend the castle when Gaston and mob show up in the second act. She wins many laughs in this comic role and displays her powerful singing voice. Outstanding dancers include dance captain Michael Thomas Pugliese as Salt, Justin Campbell as Pepper and the constantly flipping athletic Matthew Pashley-Roland as the Carpet. Kudos to one and all on a stupendous musical. The fabulous sets are by Kyle Dixon. This month marks my 45th year of attending shows at Theatre by the Sea and each year they get better and better. So run do not walk to the box office to catch “Beauty and the Beast”, a musical for folks of all ages. Tell them Tony sent you.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (19 July to 12 August)
Theatre by the Sea, 364 Cards Pond Road, Matunuck, RI
1(401)782-8587 or www.theatrebythesea.com