Theater Review: Splendid 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST' ReAnimated at 3-D Theatricals
Michael L. Quintos
I must say, right off the bat, that after experiencing the most recent, rather disappointing, alarmingly less-Disney-like non-equity national tour of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST that came through Orange County and Los Angeles in the past few years, I am thrilled to exalt that there is currently a brand-new, splendid regional production of this now classic family-friendly musical worth checking out here in Southern California that easily bests that traveling iteration ten-fold.
Not surprisingly, leave it to the creative folks over at 3-D Theatricals, Orange County's award-winning Broadway-caliber theatrical company, to be the entity responsible for it. Thank the local theater gods, because 3-DT's staging of DISNEY's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST—the 1994 expanded stage adaptation of the studio's gorgeous Academy Award-winning 1991 animated film—is a lovely, admirable production of the musical hit that features music by Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, with additional new lyrics by Tim Rice.
While smartly not a total carbon copy of the original mouse-house production that enthralled huge audiences on Broadway and its subsequent Disney Theatricals-backed first national tours, 3DT’s rather complex new mounting—directed by 3-DT co-founder and artistic director TJ Dawson—is nonetheless a marvelously-enchanting reboot, even despite the myriad of unfortunate opening night technical gaffes and (almost) forgotten/missed lines of dialogue that occasionally interrupted some of the wonderment.
With lots of innovative moving parts, clever theatrics, and dazzling special effects all criss-crossing at any given second, the show perhaps could have used another week of rehearsals and run-throughs before bowing on its scheduled opening night. Of course, surely the kinks will be ironed out for the remainder of its scheduled run at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton through February 21 (which will then transfer for a weekend of shows at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center from February 26-28).
But be that as it may, this still entertaining new production—which includes impressive visual and technical designs, a remarkably talented cast, and some lively, rather spirited new choreography by Billy Sprague, Jr.—should be another proud moment in 3-DT's history, and is a definite must-see for those few who still have yet to experience the movie's effervescent stage adaptation.
Even for newbies to this "tale as old as time"—derived from French fairy tales and folklore and have since been adapted and re-fashioned into hundreds of stories and formats in countless mediums—BEAUTY AND THE BEAST's narrative is a familiar one. For Disney's animated musical and, of course, its stage adaptation (both written by Linda Woolverton), the show tells the classic story of a vain, selfish, and unkind Prince who is magically transformed into a monstrous Beast (the laudable Alexander Mendoza) as punishment for his rotten behavior. The curse placed on him also enchanted his entire castle and its many inhabitants who themselves were transformed into various household items and knick-knacks closely related to their previous human roles.
But, huzzah, there is a way to break the spell! If the Beast manages to learn to love another and genuinely have that love reciprocated before his 21st birthday (which is right around the time the last petal remains in an enchanted rose), then the spell will be reversed. If he fails, however, he and his fellow inhabitants of the cursed castle will be doomed to remain in their current non-human forms forever.
As fate would have it, though, a smart, adventure-seeking young girl named Belle (a glowing Afton Quast), a resident of the neighboring provincial town who dreams of venturing outside the confines of her rural surroundings, has stumbled into the Beast's castle in search of her lost father Maurice (Norman Large). By sheer coincidence, the Beast had imprisoned Maurice in his dungeons days earlier for alleged trespassing. She bravely negotiates his father's release by offering herself up for a prisoner exchange, an offer the Beast accepts.
Her arrival, naturally, has the entire enchanted castle staff—which includes snarky candelabra Lumière (Dennis Kyle), uppity mantle clock Cogsworth (Joey D'Auria), flirty feather duster Babette (Melina Kalomas), over-dramatic wardrobe Madame de la Grande Bouche (the very funny Bree Murphy), and motherly teapot Mrs. Potts (Tracy Lore) and her son, teacup Chip (Bradley Bundlie)—all excited for the possibility that she may be the one to finally break the spell.
But, alas, the pairing (at least, initially) is not looking too great: the Beast's temper and stubborn, demanding ways are just not compatible with Belle's strong-willed, free-spirited nature, and natural kindness. Then again, as we already know, these two are totally meant for each other... the prologue's question, "who could ever learn to love a Beast?" is answered within seconds.
Meanwhile back at the village—where the townsfolk have already branded Belle and her father as "odd" and "different"—the resident hunky, egotistical (and "positively primeval") bad boy Gaston (scene-stealing Cameron Bond) is hell-bent on marrying Belle, whether she likes it or not. Gaston's pint-sized lackey Lefou (Robert Ramirez) is more than willing to help with the scheme, including having Maurice forcibly committed to an insane asylum because of his hysterical rantings about a so-called Beast living in a castle deep in the forest with Belle as its hostage.
Beautifully-mounted with marvelous musicality, familiar Disney-fied touches, dazzling production numbers, and top notch visuals, 3-DT's strong production is enhanced not only by its eye-popping, high-quality sets on loan from Gateway productions lit by designer Jean-Yves Tessier, but also Mela Hoyt-Heydon's opulent costumes—a fun mix of old-world charm and Disney-esque ornamentation (Belle's infamous gold evening gown provides a well-earned wow moment).
In what is becoming the frequent go-to solution for show backgrounds nowadays, this production also utilizes animated projections—here designed by Andrew Nagy—to convey locales and environments, reiterating, in a way, the musical's animated movie roots. Though, while I was wowed by the spooky forests, the falling snow, and the animated flickering candles in the pub where Gaston's assets were musically celebrated, I was, admittedly, a little jarred seeing Belle and Maurice's humble home in the middle of Napa Valley Wine Country for some reason (maybe it was just me, I digress).
Smack-dab in the center of the production is its dramatic, towering show-piece: a multi-level, multi-use castle set that spins 360-degrees all throughout the show to represent various parts of the Beast's enchanted home. The cleverly-designed set is used so dynamically and with methodical forethought—morphing into different, believable new spaces with every turn—that it almost felt like another character itself (extra kudos to the its library transformation—totally bought into the magic!).
Sound-wise, this show's musicians didn't feel as "muzzled" from the pit as previous productions. The sound mix provided by Julie Ferrin, despite a few mic and sound hiccups, allowed the lushness of the show's 18-piece orchestra under the guiding baton of musical director Julie Lamoureux to lovingly envelope the cast's lovely voices in glorious harmony.
And speaking of the cast, besides its well-cast leading principal actors led by Quast and Mendoza (each blessed with beautiful singing voices), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST's supporting cast is also populated by immensely talented performers. Lore's solo work in the show's title ballad had me tearing up a little, while Bond's go-for-broke outrageous portrayal of Gaston is so gosh-darn winning that it's actually enjoyable to keep rooting for his villainy. The comedy stylings of Murphy, Ramirez, D'Auria, and Kyle are also highlights and provide well-timed levity with their scenes. Romantic in the right places and downright hilarious in others, this kid- and adult-friendly production is satisfying entertainment.
Overall, 3-DT's regional production of this Disney staple is definitely a well-done production worthy of the similarly loud cheers that have already been showered on this company for more than six years. With the shocking recent news that 3-D Theatricals will soon be vacating its Fullerton home after this season ends to become Cerritos' resident theater company starting this fall, it's a little sad to think their Broadway-caliber productions won't be "OC-based" for much longer. OC's loss is certainly Cerritos' gain, and I'm pretty confident that 3-DT fans will surely drive the extra quarter hour to check out their future productions if BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is any indication.
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Photos of 3-D Theatricals' presentation of DISNEY's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST by Isaac James Creative. Review originally published for BroadwayWorld.
Performances of 3-D Theatricals' Production of Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST continue at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton through February 21, 2016, then transfers to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center for a limited engagement February 26 - February 28, 2016. For tickets or more information, call 714-589-2770 or visit 3DTheatricals.org.