BEAUTY AND THE BEAST—THE MUSICAL
By Gary Murray
Starring Hilary Mailberger and Darick Pead
Book by Linda Woolverton
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Rob Roth
Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney musical and film. While some prefer the spectacle of Lion King and others prefer the massive song experience that is Mary Poppins, there is a simplistic splendor of the story of Belle and a Beast who find common ground. The original film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
I was lucky enough to attend the first touring production a few seasons back. With a massive centerpiece structure along the lines of Les Miserables, the play was full of magic and whimsy. Now, it is back with a different production as a part of the Lexus Broadway Series at the AT&T Performing Arts Center through April 27th.
The proscenium arch is filled with a giant glowing rose. The opening scene sets up the tale. We see in a prologue that a young prince is cursed to become a beast until he can find someone to love and who will love him.
The stage opens with “Belle” and the introduction of our heroine Belle (Hilary Mailberger). She is a captivating presence with a fine strong voice and solid acting chops. There is a certain charm that she brings to the role. The stage sets are bold and colorful with more of the look of a cartoon than a realistic setting.
Tim Rogan as Gaston plays the role with a bit of over the top bravado. With his costume that is more than reminiscent of Li’l Abner, the actor milks every bit of comedy from the part. Along with the brilliant pratfalls of Lefou (Jordan Aragon) they are the pair of comic relief artists that wins over the audience. The song “Me” introduces the ego-centric hunter.
The song “Gaston” is truly the first show-stopping moment. The song rolls along like a beer-drinking song with most of the cast praising the more basal aspects of the slab of testosterone. It is a fun and bright number.
Perhaps the biggest moment of the play is “Be our Guest”. The work turns into a Busby Berkeley musical experience with massive costumes, stunning sets and a hoofing ensemble. Under the direction of Rob Roth, this number not only becomes a show stopping moment but a standing ovation moment. It is easily the highlight of the work.
The second act focuses on more tender moments. There is “Something There” where every person in the enchanted castle sees the hope of breaking the curse. Easily the most lovely moment is “Beauty and the Beast” sung by Mrs. Potts (Kristin Stewart). She has a soothing voice and the number brings a strong sense of warmth to the proceedings.
While the play does not have the gigantic single set, it does have a delightful group of structures that slide around to suggest a bigger world. It becomes a simple trick that works on the giant Opera House stage.
The biggest problem with this version of Beauty and the Beast is the acting choice by the Beast. Darick Pead comes across more as a whiny little man-boy than a fearful beast. Time and time again, the final acting choice seems off for the character. It needed to be starker and not so shrill.
In the secondary cast, the biggest praises have to go to Hassan Nazari-Robati as Lumiere. He has perfect comic timing and a charming vocal instrument. On more than one beat, he delivers the solid comic lines that lift the merriment aspects to the work.
Beauty and the Beast is one of the best musicals to hit the stage of the Opera House. It is a very family friendly production that everyone from 8 to 88 can enjoy. Ultimately is it a tale of sacrifice where love can conquer every obstacle.