Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Beauty and the Beast - Legacy Theater

The Legacy Theatre is a jewel box of a performing space.  However, shows need to be reconceptualized to take advantage of the theater’s intimacy.  Simply scaling down versions of big time musicals can be problematic, which is the case with their current production of Beauty and the Beast.  Director Keely Basiden Knudsen utilizes just the essential cast members - Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Babette, Madame de la Grande Bouche, and a small ensemble - to bring the musical to life.  They are outfitted in the standard supernatural costumes, designed by Jimmy Johansmeyer.  Large, showcase numbers, such as “Be Our Guest,” the dreamy, boisterous song from Act I, is reduced to a few dancing dishes.  The climatic “storming the castle scene” near the end of Act II has been excised.  Even the invention of Maurice, Belle’s father, normally a huge, clanking hulk is slimmed down to nightstand sized.


Beauty and the Beast is the perfect show to introduce young children to musical theater.  I took my oldest daughter to the original Broadway production when she was six years old.  But young ones can become fidgety if the spectacle onstage is not catching their fancy.  The Projection Slide Design by Matt Kizer Design LLC and the Project Programmer Adam Jackson provide very basic video projected backdrops.  The straightforward projections, utilized throughout the production, help speed scene changes, but are lacking in theatrical magic.  The pacing of the musical was also just a step slow.  Choreographer Paola Pacheco Rarick adds a few basic dance steps to liven up the show. The transformation scene that comes at the end of the musical, always a tricky moment to direct, was artfully rendered. 


The plot, for audience members not familiar with the Disney tale, revolves around Belle, an independently-minded young woman, living in a provincial town with her eccentric inventor father Maurice.  On the way to a fair, he becomes lost, ending up at an enchanted castle overseen by a beast and his servants, who have been transformed into household objects by an enchantress.  The only way to break the curse on the inhabitants - the beast, formally a handsome prince, must gain the love of a young lady. 


Maurice is imprisoned by the irate beast when Belle, worried about his disappearance, appears.  In quick succession her father is freed and Belle becomes the prisoner, destined to spend her life within the castle walls.  Of course, after a few false starts, the two begin to fall in love with the assistance of the loyal servants.  But, will their relationship be consummated before it’s too late?  What about the dimwitted he-man, Gaston, looking to wed Belle for himself?  Will he spoil it all?


The score for Beauty and the Beast, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, is full of memorable songs, thanks to exposure in the numerous animated and live-action films.  They include the scene-setting opening number, “Belle;” the boastful “Gaston;” the beautiful ballad, “If I Can't Love Her;” and the Grammy and Academy Award winning title number.  The small pitband of six musicians, under the directorship of Cathyann Roding, bring a surprisingly full sound to the production.


The cast is led by Melanie Martyn as Belle.  The actress is engaging with a wonderful singing voice.  Dan Frye’s beast, which unduly shifted between rough-edged and docile, could have used padding to bulk up his appearance in order to come across as more menacing.  Niko Charney brings a carefree, bon vivant spirit to Lumiere.  Josiah Rowe’s Cogsworth is satisfactorily indignant.  Gaston, usually portrayed by a strapping, clean-shaven actor, is given a different, not altogether successful spin with Scott A. Towers in the role as a bearded, long-haired mountain man type.  While his portrayal could have been more over-the-top, his sidekick LeFou, played by Robert Peterpaul, could have toned down the histrionics.  Susan Kulp makes an agreeable Mrs. Potts, gorgeously singing the title song.  David Bell is generally convincing as the befuddled Maurice.


Beauty and the Beast, playing at the Legacy Theatre through August 27.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.

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