Recently, The Media Theatre for Performing Arts performed Disney’s classic musical, Beauty and the Beast. The show was open Nov 15-Jan 14, and I had the pleasure of seeing it the night of January 10th. Beauty and the Beast, which features music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, follows the story of Belle (Alanna J. Smith), a girl from a small village, and the Beast (Jarrett Jay Yoder), a prince cursed by an enchantress. In order to lift the spell, the Beast must learn to truly love.
Although all of the performers provided an enjoyable show, Cogsworth (played by Kelly Briggs, an exceptional choice for the role), along with Belle, had an outstanding performance. Babette (Julianna Babb) was a very superficial character; Babb brought no depth to the role. Lefou (Stephen Fala) was a bit too cartoonish and emphatic at times. The Beast was unexceptional, however, his chemistry with Belle was believable and his characterization (although not subtle) was well shown. Lumiere (JP Dunphy) seemed to have some inconsistency with his accent, which was very thick at the beginning of Act One but lessened as the performance progressed. Belle had a lovely vocal quality. The Beast did not have an enthralling performance. Belle was much more compelling. Her performance was much more captivating and she was very vivacious. Cogsworth was an entertaining character, and his worrisome personality, along with Lumiere and Babette’s humorous bantering relationship, kept me interested. Gaston (Bob Stineman) was appropriately hateable and Stineman portrayed the character very well.
The sets and props, except for those in the forest and library scenes, were masterfully crafted and implemented the correct moods. The village scenes, in the beginning, were very good. The rose, however, which was a crucial part of the story, was small and far away. It could have been presented in a more obvious way. The library scene in Act Two was laughable. The Beast presents her with what is supposed to be a library, which is, in reality, a single bookshelf with no more than two actual books on it. (The rest of the books are represented by painted rectangles with no designs or writing.) Belle responds by exclaiming something along the lines of “This is the most books I’ve seen in my life!” Perhaps a whole different set for that scene would have improved it a great deal. A whole library set, instead of just a bookshelf where the throne used to be, for example, would have been better. The castle set was impressive and very well made. Maurice’s contraption was intriguing as well. Instead of having legs on the sides of the stage, there were wooden boards painted to fit the context of the show, which was an interesting choice. There was also no grand curtain. There were no sets for the forest/wolf chase scene, simply green lighting.
The lighting for the town and bar was warm and homey, the dark, cool lighting of the castle helped set the mood there, but it grew warmer during “Be Our Guest” and as Belle and the Beast’s relationship grew. The use of strobe lights for the fight scenes was unnecessary in my opinion. Again, more of an emphasis could have been put on the rose. Also, the actors were sometimes shadowed when there was no apparent need for them to be. They stepped out of the light on a couple occasions.
The costumes and makeup were delightful and suited the time period. Belle’s fancy dress was lovely, and the Beast’s makeup was fairly realistic. Mrs. Potts’ costume was very creative. The silverware costumes were wonderful but rendered the actors stiff and awkward while dancing. Chip was permanently fixed to the cart, which I feel didn’t accurately portray his character (energetic, happy). Lumiere had neat candle hands that he would turn on and off. There was an attempt to show the progression of the spell by adding feathers to Babette and mechanical gear to Cogsworth, but it did not show with any other characters. There were sound effects used for the beast’s roar, but the roar was far too loud. The sheer volume reminded you that it was fake.The music was pre-recorded.
There was a small crowd, but the audience was attentive throughout. They seemed to enjoy it. The small theatre allowed for a good view of the stage from any seat. The experience would have been enhanced if there were more sets for the library and forest and more of an emphasis on the rose. I found the production to be pleasant and enchanting, although the sets were lacking in some parts. Although it did not amaze me, I would recommend the show to anyone looking for a classic, pleasurable play.
Reviewed by Maya Bendezú