After 15 years of performances pleasing more than 35 million people in 21 countries, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast arrived back at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, Oct. 8th, to enchant current fans and entrance new ones. The show’s sellout engagement in 2010 will certainly be repeated during the run of the dazzling production that opened to an enthusiastic crowd on Tuesday night.
The story of Belle, a book-loving and warm girl who loves her father, sees through the provincial standards that envelop her town, turns down the local “hunk” and becomes embroiled with a cursed and embittered Beast, is a layered and heartwarming story typical of the Disney tradition. This year’s sets allow the audience to see those layers in a way that director Rob Roth describes as “seeing past one thing and into another.” Since the story’s theme is that of seeing into someone’s heart and being able to understand the layers of personality that make up a human being, the sets are apropos on many different levels.
But with any show, it is not necessarily the sets that are the most important factor in delivering the story’s theme. The actors/actresses must embody their characters in ways that make them believable, rising above the other-worldly production and bringing the originally animated film version to life on the stage. Disney’s Academy Award® winning score (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman) has been augmented for the stage with additional songs (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Tim Rice).
Few people know that the original fairytale that Disney adapted and retold, adding animation and music, was originally published in 1740. Written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (c. 1695-1755), a French female author, the story was more than a hundred pages long and revolved around a wealthy merchant and his daughters. The 1991 Disney animated-film version changed the father’s character, omitted the other daughters, and created a Beast who is much more likable than the Villeneuve version. Like the many other fairy tales that Disney recreated in a more palatable form, Beauty and the Beast explores the distinct differences between commoners and royalty, often pairing the two together in an attempt to bring peace and happiness to the world around them.
When Belle (played by Hilary Maiberger) opens the show, she appears solitary yet happy. A book lover, she is the victim of the provincial town’s version of bullies, a theme sure to appeal to most children. Those little girls who immerse themselves in stories that expand their world can relate to the bookworm who is Belle. Maiberger is instantly likeable, holding her slim frame in a casual and comfortable manner which contrasts with the crazy, over-the-top characters around her.
Most of the characters in this story are cartoonish, with the exception of Belle. Tim Rogan’s Gaston practically sparkles with conceit; and when he smiles, it’s not hard to imagine the twinkle of his perfectly white teeth. Thoroughly besotted with himself, Gaston has convinced the rest of the townspeople that he is the “Me” they should all aspire to be. He cannot quite understand why Belle will not accept his proposal of marriage, when all the rest of the girls in town enthusiastically follow him wherever he goes.
Most of the characters are comic, but some elicit more laughs than others. The pratfalls of Jordan Aragon’s Lefou are perfectly timed gymnastic feats that are the stuff little girls find wonderfully marvelous and incredibly hilarious.
As the story moves into the darker fantasty of the Beast’s castle, where the spoiled prince has been changed into the terrible Beast (played with both gravitas and humor by Darick Pead) and his servants into Enchanted Objects, the acting becomes comedic and more reliant on timing. Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Robati), Cogsworth (James May), Mrs. Potts (Kristin Stewart), Babette (Stephanie Moskal), Maurice (Paul Crane), Madame de la Grande Bouche (Roxy York), and Chip (Holden Browne) provoke giggles, titters, guffaws, and outright roars during their repartee. The double entendres appeal to the adults, whereas the children in the audience understand the exaggerated facial expressions and the elongated moans or high-pitched frustrations.
The musical itself relies on songs that require great skill of the singers/actors delivering them. Strongest of all of the characters is Hilary Maiberger, whose Belle effortlessly swings from an upbeat tempo in “Belle” to the beautiful refrains of “A Change in Me” in the second act, when she realizes she’s in love with the Beast. But she is not alone.
One of the best loved songs, the self-titled “Beauty and the Beast,” is sung by Mrs. Potts (Kristin Stewart). The plaintive tones of the song and its distinctive sound always evoke memories of the screen version when Angela Lansbury played Mrs. Potts. Stewart’s voice is clearer and more on key than Lansbury’s, delivering a lovely version of the memorable tune.
There are a few weak moments in this production, however; and one of them is that the strength of Darick Pead’s Beast does not quite meet previous examples. Pead’s baritone is pleasant enough, but the Beast’s voice should be more resonant and poignant than his, particularly in his solos (“How Long Must This Go On?” and “If I Can’t Love Her”). It’s almost as though this version of the Beast has not quite matured from the spoiled prince that was put under the witch’s spell. Even when Belle kisses him and brings back the Prince, the passion that should be there in his voice is lacking somewhat.
Though one can argue against Disney’s sense that folk and fairy tales were free for the taking/remaking is a wrong assumption, there is something to be said for his female characters, who are individuals to whom girls can relate –- though the happily-ever-after ending has run its course and is no longer the dream most little girls aspire to or can ever realize. The women in this production bring true magic to DPAC and make this version of Beauty and the Beast one that will continue to fill the theater throughout its run.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 9th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Larisa Mount: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Reviews-BEAUTY-AND-THE-BEAST-Enchants-Durham-20131009 and Oct. 1st interview with choreograoher Matt West, conducted by Larisa Mount: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interviews-BEAUTY-AND-THE-BEAST-Choreographer-Talks-Shows-Past-and-Present-20131001; Oct. 9th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x909262777/REVIEW-Beauty-and-the-Beast-an-entertaining-show-for-all-ages and Oct. 3rd preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x249848419/Living-her-dream-as-Belle (Note: You have to register to read these articles); Oct. 9th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/10/disneys-beauty-and-the-beast-offers-escapism-at-its-finest/; and Oct. 8th Raleigh, NC Radio 96.1 interview with Darick Pead, conducted by Alli Morgan: https://soundcloud.com/allimorgan/beast-from-disneys-beauty-and. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 8th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/10/disneys-beauty-and-the-beast-returns-to-the-durham-performing-arts-center-on-oct-8-13/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 11, and 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco District.
TICKETS: $27.25-$90.25 (including fees).
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1741572.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uizVpwvlNRI.
DPAC CONTENT ADVISORY: “Most parents would find this program suitable for ages 5 and above. All guests require a ticket, regardless of age. No one under the age of 5 admitted into the theater, and children must be able to sit quietly in their own seat without disturbing other guests.”
Beauty and the Beast (1740 folktale): http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0425c.html (Beauty and the Beast: Folktales of Type 425C, translated and/or edited by D.L. Ashliman) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty_and_the_Beast (Wikipedia).
Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (French author, c. 1695-1755): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabrielle-Suzanne_Barbot_de_Villeneuve (Wikipedia).
Beauty and the Beast (1991 animated film): http://movies.disney.com/beauty-and-the-beast (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty_and_the_Beast_%281991_film%29 (Wikipedia).
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1994 Broadway and 1997 West End musical): http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000262 (Music Theatre International), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=1895 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty_and_the_Beast_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
The Tour: http://www.beautyandthebeastontour.com/ (official website).
Study Guide: http://www.tuts.com/Images/SeasonShowDocs/beauty_study.pdf (Theatre Under the Stars of Houston, TX).
Alan Menken (composer): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Menken (unofficial website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Menken (Wikipedia).
Howard Ashman (lyricist): http://www.howardashman.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Ashman (Wikipedia).
Sir Tim Rice (lyricist): http://www.timrice.co.uk/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Rice (Wikipedia).
Linda Woolverton (librettist): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Woolverton (Wikipedia).
NETworks Presentations, LLC (producer): http://www.networksontour.com/ (official website).
Natasha Katz (lighting designer): http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/natasha_katz (American Theatre Wing bio), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natasha_Katz (Wikipedia), and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=25733 (Internet Broadway Database).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.