The Ordway’s own production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast the Broadway Musical opened this last weekend and it is a splendid looking show to be sure. The set design is wonderful as are most of the elements of the production. With a cast filled with local favorites, this homegrown production is something the Ordway should feel proud of. Fans of the classic Disney film will enjoy seeing these characters brought the live-action life. Though a little long for young children it should appeal to fans age 10 and up, with the spectacle of the show holding their interest over its two and a half hour runtime. While I admired the show production values and many of the individual performances, I am aware that I am not the target audience for the show.
Based on the 1991 Disney film which was nominated for Best Picture and featuring songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the Broadway version has several new songs with lyrics by Tim Rice. The book for the musical is written by Linda woolverton and is relatively faithful to the film with a few slight alterations, due to the inability to recreate certain aspects. Lori is a classic fairy tale of a young prince was transformed by a curse into a beast as are all of his servants who are transformed into objects. The curse can only be lifted if the Beast finds true love. Enter Belle who agrees to take the place of her trespassing inventor father Maurice and become the Beast prisoner. The servants led by Cogsworth, Lumiere, and Mrs. Potts attempt to get the Beast and Belle to fall in love and thus break the spell. But finding true love is not the only obstacle placed in front of the Beast and Belle, there is also interference from the village conceited heartthrob Gaston who with the help of his sidekick Lefou, plans to marry Belle himself against her wishes.
Leading the cast are Rajane Katurah as Belle and Nathaniel Hackmann as the Beast. At first I wasn’t sure that Katurah had the voice for Belle, the first songs didn’t seem to have the power behind them necessary but by the end, she had won me over. Hackman at times had trouble making every word heard but for the most part he was solid as well. Where the cast really shines is in the supporting performers filled with such local favorites as Max Wojtanowicz, Phillip Taratula, Rush Benson, Jamecia Bennett, and T. Mychael Rambo. Wojtanowicz as Lumiere and Taratula as Cogsworth, are a particular joy especially when they’re playing off of each other. Much of the show’s comic relief comes from their interactions and reactions. An equal share of the comedic fun comes from import Reagan Featherstone’s portrayal as Gaston which seems stepped right out of the animated classic onto the stage. You can almost see his teeth Sparkle when he smiles and like the above pair, his interactions with Benson’s Lefou are priceless. Jamecia Bennett’s portrayal of Mrs. Potts, particularly her rendition of the song Beauty and the Beast, is a little different take but had a soulful tweak that I found very appealing.
The production is directed by Michael Heitzman with music supervision by David Holcenberg and choreography by Robbie Roby. I have not seen Beauty and the Beast the Broadway Musical produced on stage previously. I have a few reservations about changes made from the film but they may be inherent in the original production which the Ordway probably doesn’t have the authority to change. One of these issues is that the end when the villagers storm the castle, rather than having a battle with the enchanted servants they simply disappear and are never seen again. One wonders if the villagers and servants interaction was going to be cut and the only action shown was Gaston’s battle with the Beast, why they simply just didn’t have Gaston come to the castle on his own. The scenic and projection design are by Adam Koch and Steven Royal, the set design is amazing. It’s basically a three-story set of the Beast’s Castle. What is really effective and certainly owes something to the lighting design by Cory Pattak, is how effectively when the scene changes to something like the village, to some extent the castle disappears into the background and their focus is entirely on this new location. What didn’t work as well for me was the use of projection. The back wall is a screen, on which various backdrops are projected. This can sometimes be an effective way to change the location and at times it works well here but the quality is inconsistent. There are times when it’s used to give us a sense of movement but it’s not well choreographed with the action on stage and just takes us out of the story. It also alternates between styles, at times it fits with the overall design and its animation roots, but at other times it looks like bad video game computer animation from the 90’s, the look is just too inconsistent. Highmark’s go unreservedly to the costume designs by Ryan Moller and hair, wig, and make up designs by Bobbie Zlotnik.
Beauty and the Beast runs through December 31st at the Ordway in St. Paul. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://ordway.org/events/beauty-and-the-beast.
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