For those of you who are only familiar with the 1991 movie (which, BTW, came out when I was a teenager and with which I might have been a teeny bit obsessed), the 1994 stage adaptation stays fairly close to the plot and includes all of the beloved songs like "Be Our Guest," "Gaston," and the title song, plus a half dozen or so new songs that flesh out the characters of the Beast, Belle, and her father. After complaining about her provincial life, Belle finds adventure by rescuing her beloved father from an enchanted castle and taking his place as the Beast's captive. The only way the Beast and his animate object servants can return to their human selves is if he learns to love and be loved in return. But who could ever learn to love a Beast? Against all odds (and because this is Disney), Belle and the Beast eventually fall sweetly in love, he lets her go, and she comes back to save him from the angry townspeople. The curse is broken and they all live happily ever after thanks to the transformative power of love.*
Director Michael Heitzman first directed this show at an outdoor theater in Utah about a year and a half ago. Rod Kaats saw it and worked to bring it to the Ordway, complete with sets and costumes (read the full story in the StarTrib). It has been adapted for the space, and of course now includes our abundant local talent. The whole show is full of such life, energy, and joy that it leaves you breathless, but with a few quieter moments for us (and the hard-working ensemble) to catch our breath.
|Rajané Katurah as Belle (photo by Dan Norman)
|Nathaniel Hackmann as the Beast
(photo by Dan Norman)
Highlights in the supporting cast are, well, everyone, but to name a few: Regan Featherstone is the perfect pompous Gaston that we love to hate, the nimble Rush Benson is hilarious as his (literal) sidekick Lefou in a fantastically physical performance, beloved #TCTheater veteran T. Mychael Rambo is warm and wonderful as Belle's eccentric father, and all of the enchanted objects are truly charming, including Phillip Taratula as the stern butler/clock Cogsworth, #TCTheater favorite Max Wojtanowicz who is just radiant as Lumiere, Jorie Ann Kosel as the flirty feather duster Babette, local theater and music star Jamecia Bennett as Mrs. Potts (she has a way of singing a song and making you feel like you're hearing it for the first time, which she does with with the title song, a showstopper moment), and Thomasina Petrus, perfectly cast as the former opera singer. The fabulous ensemble, who all multiple characters including townspeople and various animated inanimate objects, is full of too many familiar faces to mention (including Jon Andrew Hegge, the one cast-member reprising his role from the Ordway's 2009 production, as the insane asylum proprietor Monsieur D'Arque).
|trust me, you want to be their guest (photo by Dan Norman)
The massive set includes multi-level structures on both sides of the stage, two rotating staircases and other large pieces like Belle's cottage, all enhanced by still and moving projections of the countryside, the castle, the view in the magic mirror, and other scenes. The many many costumes are elaborate and colorful, from the featured enchanted objects, each one detailed and specific, to the period costumes of the village townspeople, to Belle's gorgeous gowns, especially the one she wears for the dancing scene. Instead of that iconic yellow gown from the movie that you expect to see (and that many children in the audience are wearing), it's a soft peach covered in diamonds or stardust or some magic that makes it shine and shimmer, perhaps the most stunning sartorial creation I've ever seen on stage. (Scenic and projection design by Adam Koch and Steven Royal, costume design by Ryan Moller.)
Last but not least - the music! I know the movie soundtrack by heart from my teen years (I'm pretty sure it was the first cassette tape I owned - yes I'm that old and that nerdy), and it's all there, but live! With some additions that help fill out the story and the score, including the charming "Human Again" for the enchanted objects (written for the movie but cut), and new songs (written by the film's composer Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice, who replaced the recently deceased Howard Ashman) like "Home" and "A Change in Me" for Belle "If I Can't Love Her" for the Beast. Local Music Director Elise Santa directs the 12-person local orchestra (in a traditional pit with catwalks over it to bring the cast closer to the audience), and it all sounds gorgeous (original Music Supervisor David Holcenberg).
Well, I've run out of complimentary adjectives, so I'm going to end this review. Beauty and the Beast is a triumphant return to the tradition of Ordway Original Productions, borrowing some elements from a previous production, adding new elements, and overflowing with local talent. I look forward to many more Ordway Originals in the coming years (including hopefully that production of RENT directed by Martha Banta, assistant director of the original Broadway production, that was planned for summer of 2020).
Beauty and the Beast continues through December 31 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in downtown St. Paul.
*Plot summary borrowed from my review of the 2016 production at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.