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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ lives up to reputation

The touring production at Appleton is loaded with luster.
"Beauty and the Beast" (Amy Boyle, ©Amy Boyle Photography 2013)
"Beauty and the Beast" (Amy Boyle, ©Amy Boyle Photography 2013)

PHOTO: “Be Our Guest” is a spectacular number in the touring production of “Beauty and the Beast.” Production photo

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Thirtysomething years since the movie and the Broadway premiere, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” happily plays this weekend in five performances at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center as a touring show. Performances continue through Sunday, April 13. Info: www.foxcitiespac.org.

Throngs are seeing a robust production (4½ stars out of 5).

There’s something about the Disney brand that assures quality, and it’s there in the spectacle and sound of this edition. The show is packed with solid singing and eye-filling action.

Strong performances abound.

- The sweet Belle (Hilary Maiberger), who yearns for books and a cure for her loneliness/emptiness.

- The tragic/comic Beast (Darick Pead), destined to physical ugliness born of a curse for a youthful mistake unless someone can love him despite his horrifying exterior and coarse, selfish behavior.

- The super egotistical Gaston (Tim Rogan), a beauty of a burly man who seeks to win over Belle by sheer force of will (also known as bullying).

- Gaston’s ever-obedient and beat-upon sidekick LeFou (Jordan Aragon), who flips and flops all over the stage in superbly choreographed slapstick.

- The Beast’s servants/household objects, including candlestick man Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Roboti), clock Cogsworth (James May), tea pot Mrs. Potts (Kristin Stewart), duster Babette (Stephanie Moskal) and wardrobe Madame de la Grande Bouche (Roxy York).

It’s a quite likable cast all around, and you might sense camaraderie in the performers. They look like they’re having fun amid all their colorful characters and costumes/props – hands that light like candles, a carpet that jumps and spins, a teacup that talks. I like how the dual natures of Beast and Gaston are carefully layered, and how nice Belle is.

The production’s sound system is extremely sophisticated, helping songs of Belle and the Beast especially ring.

There’s trickery in the big scene/character changes. Costumed figures are part of the scenery, and then they move – and so do set pieces. Swift character changes often come with blinding flashes (an effect I hate).

There’s dazzle in costuming and scenery overall, and then there’s DAZZLE in two huge numbers. The choreography in “Gaston” is sensational as an entourage clanks beer mugs in an extremely well timed swirl – with everything fast and nimble. “Be My Guest” is a showcase of merrily singing and dancing utensils and plates, complete with bursts of big party poppers. It’s fantastic.

The show earned a standing ovation on opening night Friday, April 11.

It’s fun trying to figure out how “Beauty and the Beast” endures. No. 1, it’s safe: It’s Disney, has a happy ending, has key songs that people probably know and like to hear, has a story that people kind of/sort of know and has the promise of being entertaining. Friday night’s audience consisted of young couples, older couples, parents with children, grandparents with grandchildren, with some little girls dressed as little princesses. The show has kiddie stuff (action, imaginative characters and the castle/princess thing) and adult stuff (the sensuality of Babette and Lumiere, among others, is more than coy).

Friday night’s performance also had a glitch. At the climactic moment, the stage went dark. No lights. Nothing. Quickly, a voice was heard announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing technical difficulties. The show will resume momentarily.” Seven minutes later, the voice came back to say, “Our issue has been resolved.” Computers crash all the time in everyday life, so it’s no surprise when a show like this that’s armed with so many electronic parts hits a rough spot. Not a large deal. But I have a grumble: “Issue.” Call out the Grammar Police. Wrong word. It’s a namby pamby, sissy word that has come into common use. Say what the situation is: We have a problem. If I have a flat tire on a stormy night on a superhighway, I do not have an issue. I have a PROBLEM. When an elaborate show goes dead at its main moment, it has a problem.

***

Creative: NETworks Presentations, producer of this touring version, with Rob Roth as director, Matt West as choreographer and Kevin Finn musical director (in house). Disney Theatrical Productions, producer of the original. Original creative team: Alan Menken, music; Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, lyrics; Linda Wooverton, book.

Cast: Belle, Hilary Maiberger; Beast, Darick Pead; Gaston, Tim Rogan; Lefou, Jordan Aragon; Mrs. Potts, Kristin Stewart; Lumiere, Hassan Nazari-Robati; Cogsworth, James May; Babette, Stephanie Moskal; Maurice, Paul Crane; Madame de la Grande Bouche, Roxy York; Chip, Josh Feldman and Jack Mullen (alternating); Monsieur d’Arque, Kieron Cindric; Young Prince, Tony D’Alelio; Carpet, Tony D’Alelio; Silly Girls, Bonnie Kelly, Sarah Gawron, Tiger Brown; Townspeople/Enchanted Objects, Tony D’Alelio, Blaire Baker, Chris Brand, Tiger Brown, Kieron Cindric, Mark Edwards, Sarah Gawron, Bonnie Kelly, Kevin Robert Kelly, Corey Joseph Masklee, Emilie Renier, Brandon Roach, Trevor Sones, Emily Thomas, Becky Whitcomb, Jill-Christine Wiley; Voice of Prologue Narrator, James May.

Songs

Act I

“Belle” – Belle, Gaston, LeFou and Townsfolk

“No Matter What” – Maurice and Belle

“Wolf Chase” – Maurice

“Me” – Gaston and Belle

“Belle” (Reprise) – Belle

“Home” – Belle

“Home” (Reprise) – Mrs. Potts

“Gaston” – LeFou, Gaston, Silly Girls and Tavern Patrons

“Gaston” (Reprise) – Gaston and LeFou

“How Long Must This Go On?” – Beast

“Be Our Guest,” –  Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, Enchanted Objects, Ensemble

“If I Can’t Love Her” – Beast

Act II

“Something There” – Belle, Beast, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth

“Human Again,” – Lumiere, Madame de La Grande Bouche, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Babette, Chip and Enchanted Objects, Ensemble

“Beauty and the Beast” – Mrs. Potts

“If I Can’t Love Her” – Beast

“A Change in Me” – Belle

“The Mob Song” – Gaston, Townspeople, Ensemble

“Home” (Reprise) – Belle and Beast

“Beauty and the Beast” (Reprise) – Belle, Prince, Company

***

VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls up to the chandelier are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. Flat walls in the front third of the hall are salmon colored, while red pleated theatrical curtains dominate the rest of the side walls. The white acoustic wing over the stage looks like the underside of a sci-fi spacecraft. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level, a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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