Disney’s sparkling, sugar-coated version of a 300-year-old fairy tale proves irresistible as it hits the stage at the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia. The musical version of “Beauty and the Beast” is a crowd-pleaser on a grand scale.
Along with first-class musical production numbers, the story calls for magical spells, enchanted characters, onstage transformations and two scary wolf attacks. Director and choreographer Dann Dunn makes all these components work like a well-oiled machine that buttresses the love story at the heart of the show.
The spell is cast in the opening scene, revealing from the onset that the alchemy of lighting, costuming and set design will transport viewers to fantasyland. A young prince is turned into a hideous Beast after rejecting an enchantress disguised as a beggar woman asking for help.
As the Beast, Daniel Barrington Rubio anchors the show with a hulking presence that is in turn ferocious, sad, hopeful, shy and ultimately romantic. Rubio is a fine vocalist who also manages the bumbling, comic side of the Beast.
Belle is the Beauty with the potential to save him. Brooke Quintana brings an endearing mix of wide-eyed romanticism and fierce independence to this character. Quintana creates a lovely, refreshing Belle and, as another talented vocalist, is particularly wonderful singing the tender, expressive “A Change in Me.”
Belle adores her sweet-tempered if dotty inventor father, Maurice. As Maurice, Ty Smith makes his entrance on a wheeled contraption sputtering with preposterous originality. The conditions are set for his daughter to meet the Beast when Maurice gets lost in the woods and is attacked by wolves. Dim lighting on four svelte creatures performing a cleverly choreographed attack allows the suspension of disbelief as fear drives the man to seek refuge at the Beast’s castle.
But before Belle braves the forest herself to find her father and meet the Beast, she must contend with Gaston, a narcissistic, preening lout. Jarrett Yoder’s comic stage presence as Gaston could easily steal the show, but instead he lends a facile hilarity that beautifully contrasts with the more serious business confronting the Beast.
LaFou, Gaston’s toady, is handled adroitly by Drew Boudreau, and together with the three Silly Girls – Sarah Schori, Quinn Farley, Carolyn Keller – broadens the comical absurdity of Gaston’s role. The girls deliver one lusty performance after another with lock-sync precision while Boudreau cavorts as a slapstick stooge beside Yoder’s virile display. The ensemble’s beer-swigging lineup to Gaston is a standout number in Act I.
Meanwhile, over at the castle, the enchanted servants, doomed with their cursed master, gather around the Beast, trying to coerce him into behaving well toward Belle so that they might be released from lives as living figurines.
Spilling with personality and flair, the actors performing these parts excel. Harvey T. Jordan bustles as the fussy Cogsworth, the mantle clock. Jake Delaney glows outrageously as Lumiere, the candelabra. Brittany Law flirts with saucy abandon as Babette, the feather duster. Sheila Townsend is gloriously operatic as the Wardrobe, Madame de la Grande Bouche. And Randi Linee is not only comforting as Mrs. Potts the teapot, but conveys a heartwarming rendition of the show’s titular song.
While these artfully costumed, talking and singing objects contrive to unite their master with Belle, Gaston conspires a plot with Monsieur D’Arque to get Belle to marry him. Lucas Michael Chandler drapes this bit part with the requisite dark, sinister villainy. But neither D’Arque nor Gaston can supplant the fairytale ending the audience yearns to see.
While Sierra Repertory Theatre attracts Actors’ Equity Association members to produce superb theater, the company also draws from local talent, which affords theatergoers the particularly charming circumstance that I enjoyed during this show. Sitting beside me was the mother of 9-year-old Gabriel Gutierrez, who plays Chip the teacup (he alternates in the role with Jacob Tagenberg). From Mrs. Gutierrez, I learned about her son’s very short performance trajectory to the SRT stage, sloshed in an abundance of pride.
Meanwhile on my left, my granddaughter boasted about her friend, Rajah Foerstner, a Summerville Connections Academy student, upon whom the curtain rises on the handsome and arrogant Young Prince. Foerstner is also part of the talented ensemble whose dancing and singing underscore the lavish tenor of this production.
Musical Director Benjamin Van Diepen, who appeared early in the 2018 season as Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet,” displays the breadth of his talent in this run. This is a musical, but what makes the show lavish is the manner in which all the components, including the music, blend seamlessly into a whole.
I admit that I came prepared to witness something splendid and intricate because my friend, Annette Keegan, one of the scenic painters, had raved about the set for weeks. She enthused excitedly about the design and methods of Sean Fanning, scenic designer, in creating lush, moveable pieces that depict the village, forest and castle in which the action takes place.
All of it – the sets, music, costumes, singing, dancing and acting – make “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” a superb family outing, and if this is the first time your child has seen a musical, Dunn is committed to making it memorable. He professes in the Sierra Repertory newsletter, “I love knowing that this may be someone’s first theatrical experience and I feel it is my responsibility as an artist to make sure that we’re giving them the most fruitful theatrical experience that we can.”
This show was not my first musical, but it was more than fruitful. It’s fantastic flipping fun.