Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Review by Sean McQuaid
As a manly journalist in the Les Nessman tradition, your tumble-down typist has always enjoyed Disney’s 1991 animated musical romance Beauty and the Beast. Hummable and lyrically nimble tunes including a couple of indisputable classics (the title track and “Be Our Guest”), one of Disney’s first quasi-enlightened animated female leads in titular beauty Belle, memorably colourful supporting characters—what’s not to like?
Disney’s inevitable stage musical adaptation of the hit movie ran on Broadway from 1994 to 2007. Summerside-based community theatre company Fandango mounted their own version in 2012, and have remounted it with some cast modifications at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre of the Arts this November.
Never having seen the stage show these past 21 years, I came to it with fairly fresh eyes—two sets of same, actually, with darling daughter adding her preteen perspective. She deemed the whole shebang “awesome” come the final curtain, and her dad liked it pretty well, too.
The stage version adds or expands a ton of songs, so there’s more musical bang for your buck—and while none of the new material quite matches the original film’s musical heights, it holds up alongside the older material and feels like part of a coherent whole.
There are inevitable limitations. More physically constrained than animation, the stage can’t quite capture the unreal wonders of the monstrous Beast and his castle full of living household objects, though Fandango does its best on a community theatre budget with some colourful, ingenious costumes and small but effectively deployed mobile sets.
That said, a few of the minor supporting characters are sufficiently vague in terms of visual design to obscure who or what they are (the gargoyles spring to mind since only the program clearly identifies them as such, though their eerily decorative presence is welcome regardless).
Sometimes scene transitions seem a bit slow or uneven as well, but director Shirley Anne Cameron mostly keeps the play moving along smartly. Overall coordination is especially solid in big cast-of-dozens showpieces like the impressively grand “Be Our Guest” number, even if some of the ambulatory cutlery are more energetic or on the beat than others.
The stage adaptation fleshes out the supporting cast nicely, revealing more about the backstories of the Beast’s transformed servants and the nature of their metamorphosis, and animated bit players like the feather duster and the wardrobe get developed into fuller, funnier characters here as the coquettish Babette and theatrical diva Madame de la Grande Bouche.
Rachel Mundy is a charming, sympathetic and consistently strong Belle with a lovely voice. Another strong vocalist, Popalopalots veteran Jordan Cameron is often funny as the Beast and nails the pathos of the part, though he doesn’t always sell the scary aspects of the character and seems hesitant on occasion when switching emotional gears.
Steve Bruce revels in cartoonish villainy as Belle’s brutish suitor (bruitor?) Gaston—not the most naturalistic performance, but deliciously swaggering, hammy fun from start to finish. A funny Devon Surkan, enjoyably reminiscent of a young Danny Strong, is ideally cast as Gaston’s sniveling sidekick Lefou, as is Alfredo Campos as their sinister ally Monsieur D’Arque, both roles having expanded to good effect in the stage version.
As in the original movie, the show is often stolen by the Beast’s transformed servants: Peter Surkan is perfect as the fussy clock Cogsworth and Adam-Michael James is charming fun as suave candelabra Lumiere. Sandra McNeill capably fills the key role of matronly teapot Mrs. Potts, though Claire Casely Smith and Charlotte Thompson land more laughs as Bouche and Babette, respectively. There are no small parts here, only small household objects seeking big laughs—and often succeeding.