just may have enjoyed the best-ever musical theatre experience
since Joseph last week at the Princess of Wales Theatre
in Toronto: Disneys Beauty and the Beast.
-----First, lets clear up one misconception. This is not just a "kids show." Although kids will love it (and made up about 20% of the sell-out matinee we attended), no one writes lyrics like swaggering Gastons addle-brained boast "Im especially good at expectorating; I use antlers in all my decorating" for kids. Nor will kids recognize the playful pokes at Esther Williams and Carmen Miranda-style big production musicals of the 40s, with high-stepping dancers prancing down cascading dishes, costumed as giant kitchen utensils. Secondly, although the play is faithful to the animated Disney movie, it is much more. The characters are more carefully developed, their bewitched plight of becoming less human, more object, with every dropping rose petal is more anguished, more real, and generates more sympathy. We know its just a fairy tale, but these teapots and candelabra are no longer cartoon characters with celebrity voices; they are, or at least were, real people, and we share their anxious desire to be restored to that state again. The stage version has also added six new songs, bringing the total to a dozen fine pieces (remember the record-breaking trio of best song Academy Award nominations?). The new songs, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice (after original collaborator Howard Ashmans tragic death just before the movie was released), add layers of character relationships and sophistication not found in the movie. Although the acting is certainly secondary to the overwhelming splendour, effects and music of this play, there are still several marvelous parts. Dan R. Chameroy as the muscle-bound, self-adoring Gaston, had already proven his adaptability to this role, in Into the Woods, where he played Prince "I wasnt raised to be sincere" Charming. A delightful surprise was his punching-bag companion, Cliff Saunders as Lefou. That fellow bounces, and is bounced, across that stage as often and as resiliently as his cartoon counterpart.
-----Local favourite Terry Doyle has moved from Pollys father in Crazy to Belles slightly off-beat dad in Beauty. Hes perfectly cuddly in the role that, on stage, is one of several that has more importance than the film version. Kerry Butler is Belle, a role that, despite its title ranking, does not really allow for much creativity. Her captor is played by a remarkably talented Chuck Wagner, although he is much more appealing as the doting Beast than as the gloating Prince (one mans opinion; another womans heartthrob).
-----Appliances and household accouterments are perfectly portrayed by Judy Marshak as kindly Mrs. Potts, André Thérien and Paul Brown as Lumière and Cogsworth, and thirty others filling out the cupboards, wardrobes and closets.
-----The show opens with special effects (including the first-ever throwable hand-held fireball, that took a year and a half to develop just for this show), builds on them (including the de-corporated Chip, the son of Mrs. Potts who is fast becoming a teacup), and closes with them (a stunning levitation and spiraling mid-air transformation of Beast to Prince). There are 1000 pieces of scenery, 200 costumes, and enough lights (1.2 million watts) to illuminate the SkyDome. The theatrical wizardry and imaginative design are dazzling, from beginning to climax to climax upon climax.
-----And its a nice story, too.
-----Beauty and the Beast is in an indefinite run at the Princess of Wales. For tickets ($27 to $91), call 1-800-461-3333.
Disclaimer: Nothing here is "official." Everything is a composite of media releases, information supplied by or procured from the theatres by direct or devious means, or downright personal opinion. If you don't like what you see, blame us, not the fine folks in the theatres of Southwestern Ontario.