Based on Disney’s award winning animated 1991 film, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST added six new songs, morphed furniture and household objects into real live people, lent new depth to the characters, and exploded onto the Broadway stage in 1994. A huge commercial success, the musical became one of the longest-running shows on Broadway with 5,461 performances between 1994 and 2007. Considering that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was Disney’s first Broadway venture, the result was impressive.
Unbelievable challenges awaited the production staff, including the creation of costumes which mimicked the film, developing appropriate sound and lighting, and – most important – creating a host of special effects and technological leaps to turn people into objects – and vice versa. Technical and artistic problems abounded – not the least of which was how to make a craven beast retain a speck of humanity – just enough to elicit a sympathetic response from the audience.
With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice from a book by Linda Woolverton, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST proved up to the task. Based on a child’s fairy tale, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST struck a chord in audiences young and old. The story of a spoiled and unfeeling prince (Todd Adamson) turned into a beast because of his lack of compassion proved that there was justice in Disney’s world. At the same time, the spell on the enchanted castle could be broken – but only if the Beast could love and be loved in return. Enter the gorgeous but bookish Belle (Laurie Veldheer) who offers herself as hostage in exchange for the freedom of her inventor father Maurice (Joey D’Auria), who accidentally happened upon the palace in a storm and became the Beast’s prisoner.
Meanwhile, the Beast’s loyal household staff – all slowly turning into inanimate objects – try their best to do a little matchmaking. And so Lumiere (Josh Grisetti), Monsieur D’Arque (Michael Stone Forrest), Madame de la Grande Bouche (Chelle Denton), Babette (Sara King), Mrs. Potts (Alexandra Melrose), and her son Chip (Kaine Koltoniuk) enter the fray as advisors and hopeful agents of change. But Belle also has another admirer, the vain and egotistical Gaston (Matthew Ragas) who can’t imagine why the lovely Belle isn’t showing more interest in his perfection.
The staff does an effective job of bringing the animated tale to life, with special kudos to Todd Adamson for a formidable, powerful voice (and his ability to keep moving inside that huge get-up). But there is yet another star in the BEAUTY/BEAST firmament – and that is the brilliant technology displayed as people/objects mingle and merge. Disney get an A+ for the hidden treasures in this story – including that iconic yellow ball gown which probably weighs more than the slender actress inside. Directed by Michael Heitzman with musical direction by Darryl Archibald, the production is nearly perfect. The scenic design by Front Row Theatrical is flexible and fittingly gloomy or glamorous, and the entire production team does a bang-up job. Let’s not forget choreography by Robbie Roby, who turns music into melodic movement. All in all, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST remains a crowd-pleaser.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST runs through June 23, 2019, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, at 8 p.m. on Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, CA 90638. Tickets range from $27 to $99 (student and group discounts available). For information and reservations, call 562-944-9801 or 714-994-6310 or go online.