By Philip Pearce
DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the first animated film to earn a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, is now on view at Cabrillo Stage in its bouncy new Broadway theater version.
Janie Scott directs and choreographs a production tailored for wide popularity. There’s excellent broad physical comedy, fine voices sing those nice tunes about love and hospitality, there’s a generous helping of deft dance numbers and a nice touch of Phantom of the Opera melodrama. All this, plus a script that offers important home truths through its colorful main characters.
From the disfigured hero prince locked inside his castle and a terrifying appearance we learn that if you’re not nice to the homeless you may get turned into a beast. Mathew Taylor sings powerfully, projecting howls of beastly rage and anguish through a heavy and (to me in Row S) overly hairy make-up. His transformation back to princehood is dazzling, thanks to the production and lighting staff and the rich technical resources of the Crocker Theater.
Emily Mairi Marsilia, last seen at Cabrillo as a spit-spot and starchy Mary Poppins, is beautiful, spunky and in wonderful voice as the delectable Belle. She sets a good example of the benefits of a good book over an iPad before learning to love the Beast.
Proving that Mister Handsome Jock isn’t always Mister Right, Carmichael James Blankenship is sensational, muscular and funny as the puffed-up village bully Gaston. His voice is a force of nature and he has a gift for athletic comedy. His rendition of “Me” (clearly Gaston’s favorite subject), sung as he woos the reluctant Belle by tossing her around like a bag of potatoes, is a high spot of Act 1. He has a rag-doll knockabout buddy in the person of the daft and flexible Mike Saenz as LeFou, and is pursued by a trio of giggling village sirens played by Catrina Contini, Jessica Pierini and Brenna Sammon.
Most residents of Belle’s home village write her off as a useless dreamy bookworm, but Richard Dwyer is on hand to take her side as her amiable, absent-minded inventor papa Maurice. It’s his wander into the dark forest and capture by minions of the castle staff that send Belle into the creepy but exciting corridors of the Beast’s gothic hideaway. It’s designed by William “Skip” Epperson to loom spookily and, like all of the sets, to move effortlessly in and out from sequence to sequence.
It’s a structure, you may remember, that also houses a lively collection of people who have been turned into household furniture and utensils by the same curse that created their hirsute master. Like their boss these unfortunate appliances won’t become human again until someone receives and gives him back true love.
A motherly teapot called Mrs. Potts is played by a chirpy and hopeful Joyce Michaelson. As her son Chip, fifth-grader Caleb Marchessault’s energy and wit earned him repeated opening night applause.
Jordan Pierini struts and frets effectively as the pompous grandfather clock Cogsworth, ably supported by Nick Rodrigues as the fuss-budget chandelier Lumiere and Megan Brown as his oo-la-la wife Babette, who seems (though I may have missed something) to have been allowed to hang on to her humanity. Angela Cesena and Michael Stark do well by their roles, she as a vain operatic diva turned into a boudoir vanity Wardrobe and he as a very gallic Monsieur D’Arque.
The dancing is great. Wearing her choreographer hat, Janie Scott has directed the contrasting character groups with verve and assurance. “Be Our Guest” hits every mark, vocal and choreographic, as a first act show stopper. The singing voices are impressive. Jon Nordgren’s orchestra seemed to take a while but soon hit its stride on opening night. There were moments, particularly in Mrs. Potts’ rendition of the title song, where instruments and voices appeared to be working at cross purposes, but that’s a familiar early challenge that will undoubtedly disappear as the run continues through August 13.