Finally, there’s an appealing and sensational on-stage attraction befitting the new theater.
This outing – DHT’s season-closing endeavor – finally hits all the right notes after the largely lackluster “Cinderella” and “The Bodyguard,” the two attractions preceding “Beauty.”
On every front, this one’s a wonderment, with the essential experience and aura of a magical kingdom, a title that Disney now owns outright.
The musical, based on Disney’s 1991 hit animated film, features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton.
At its core, this is a love story waiting to bloom; a prince becomes a beast-like figure when he falls under a spell from an enchantress; the only way he can undo the spell is to fall in love with Belle, whose father gets trapped in the lair of the beast, and she is held hostage.
Thus, the moral is to chill and learn to love, and the curse will end if Belle, a book-loving woman, sees beyond his mean demeanor and animal-like physique, and kisses him, and, yes, they’ll live happily ever after. In other words, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Director David Spangenthal (inventive, daring, spirited, pictured above) is a triple-threat in this “tale as old as time,” appearing as the Beast/Prince and also credited with the stunning choreography, making each task look easy. Clearly, he’s a singer, dancer, and a theatrical wizard – his Beast is a powerhouse of emotions on “If I Can’t Love Her.”
Spangenthal’s casting is remarkable. Beauty is a beauty (Emily North, pictured above, right, with a voice of an angel and alternately feisty and Disney princess-like, graceful, and wistful on “Home”), supplemented by brilliant choices for the humans-caught-in-the-spell: Garrett Hols (Gaston, aptly boorish, pompous, and self-loving on “Me” and “Gaston”), Samuel Budd (Lefou, Gaston’s punchy sidekick, delightfully impish), Kyle Malis (Cogsworth, tick-tocking timely advice), David Sheftell (as Lumiere, the candelabra with a beaut of a voice, and hands of candles, warmly welcoming on “Be Our Guest” ), Cathy Foy (as Mrs. Pott, the teapot, with pipes that deliver the show’s signature title song), and Julie Okamura (Madame de la Grande Bousch, a walking wardrobe chest of drawers with functioning doors and drawers).
Samuel Budd( Lefou) and Garrett Hols (Gaston), in “Beauty and the Beast.”
These fairy tale characters would not be effective were it not for the magic of new resident costumer Emily Lane, whose creations run the gamut from traditional gowns to the Beast (as a monster, as a Prince), plus specialty garb like the uncustomary costumes including a spout-arm for Mrs. Potts, and fantasy finery for Lumiere, Cogsworth and Madame de la Grand Bousch. That’s sew biz!
Cathy Foy, center, as Mrs. Potts, the teapot, in “Beauty and the Beast.”
There’s also the kitchen implements bearing larger-than-life fork, spoon, and knife, and a brigade of tools like a handmixer, a corkscrew, and a brush.
Kudos, too, to set and lighting designer Dawn Oshima, who finally converts the DHT space into a palate befitting a fairy tale: a range of scenic background slide projections (the village, the Beast’s lair, scenic skies and mountains and gigantic full moon), platforms and stairways that are utilized in different positioning. The visuals enhance the acting/dancing, elements that have been lacking earlier even with fly space. In one scene, the Beast reveals a surprise for book-loving Belle, three airy book-filled shelves comprising a library, floating beautifully.
Belle’s home is a bright yellow with red door and windows, spartan but suitable for a storybook set, and an oversized plate is an unexpected eye-filler in one scene, which reflects a huge budget for scenery and props.
Spangenthal’s choreography on “The Mob Song,” featuring Hols’ Gaston, earns the largest applause of the evening, for the well-executed mob dancing while clinking flagons, an apparatus-version of the slap dance. Great timing, grand sequence. And Spangenthal repeatedly displays a knack of movement/dancing on entrances and exits with ease and aplomb.
Chip (Mrs. Potts’ son), is cute and effective, with beaming face from a large teacup with a chip, with his body concealed in a cabinet (the role is double-cast, with Tobias Ng-Osorio and Philex Kepa). Giddy but hilarious are the trio of Silly Girls (Lana Differt, Kira Mahealani Stone and Christine Kluvo. Alexandria Zinov (Babette) and Maurice “Mo” Radke (Maurice, Belle’s father) have their moments, too.
Also watch for the somersaulting carpet (uncredited) in several scenes – a rare but stunning contribution.
The orchestra, unseen in the pit, is co-conducted by Roslyn Catracchia and Jenny Shiroma, and provides breathless sweeps and dramatic zest – a remarkable triumph since there are only 10 musicians sounding like 20.
Historically, “Beauty and the Beast” was the first Disney entry as a Broadway player, a feat viewed as a domestic response to the bounty of British-produced successes arriving from the West End. The prevailing climate among Broadway vets was indifference toward a theatrical film organization entering the market, but Mickey Mouse prevailed. Disney also launched an aggressive merchandise tactic (think tee-shirts, coffee mugs, and fake roses that light up) to cater to patrons, with a brilliant idea to direct exiting theater-goers through the souvenir shop, a move incredibly productive especially with “The Lion King,” early in that show’s run. And today, “The Lion King” is the king of The Great White Way, ranking No. 1 in grosses (more than $2 million weekly). …
And that’s Show Biz. …
‘Beauty and the Beast’
What: A musical based on the Disney animated film, “Beauty and the Beast,” with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton.
Where: Diamond Head Theatre.
When: Opened July 21, running through Aug. 20. The show’s original playdates are sold out: seats for performances Aug. 17 through 20 are available.
Tickets: $37 to $62, at www.diamondheadtheatre.com or (808) 733-0274.