note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Beverly Creasey
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is the musical which began Disney’s assault on The Great White Way. The animated film transfers quite imaginatively to the stage, with actors portraying the half-human “objects” as well as the beloved human characters from the famous French fairy tale. It doesn’t hurt, either, to have charming music by Alan Menken and clever lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Linda Woolverton’s appealing book is the perfect choice for the Wheelock Family Theatre, with its themes of love, acceptance and redemption. And it’s the perfect vehicle for Wheelock’s company of actors, who seem “born” to play these roles.
Over the years, Wheelock has attracted many of Boston’s finest actors to perform in theater for children (and their families) along side children--- and there isn’t a better show than this to demonstrate what they can do. The production values in BEAUTY are sky high: From Steven Bergman’s crack orchestra to Anita Fuchs’ simple, elegant forest frame, the show sparkles with energy and glows with warmth. Director Jane Staab finds the heart of the story and surrounds us with the excitement, as characters chase through the audience (or, in Yvonne Murphy’s case, run screaming all over. You won’t be able to keep from giggling at the histrionics).
What a pleasure to see Wheelock regulars light up the stage with Broadway quality performances. Gamalia Pharms is the kindest of kettles as Mrs. Potts, the housekeeper-teapot who befriends the spunky Belle and coaches the gruff Beast in minding his manners. Angela Williams makes Belle an effervescent force to be reckoned with, (for beasts and humans both) and Mansur melts our hearts as Belle’s faltering father.
Robert Saoud cuts quite a swath as the suave candelabra. It’s no wonder Lisa Korak, as the maid, cannot resist. Chip Phillips, too, is hilarious, as the nervous timekeeper and Jeanine Belcastro gives a lovely performance as the melancholy vanity.
Christopher Chew is wonderfully boorish as the egotistical suitor who cannot understand why Belle isn’t smitten. Gary Thomas Ng gets to reap comic gold as he continually hits the ground, groveling to Chew’s bully.
Doug Jabara is new face on the Wheelock stage. His “Beast” is more playful than some, making his difficult predicament all the more tragic. The children in the audience, even wee ones, seemed to sense that he didn’t really intend such bad behavior. Even dressed (in Matthew T. Lazure’s sensational costumes) as the shaggy beast, they preferred him to his unkind human rival.
The company performs Laurel Stachowicz’ delightful choreography in the lively “Maisons des Lunes and in the boisterous ballet for dinnerware, “Be Our Guest.” Everyone in the cast adds to the merriment, right down to the smallest of thespians, a first grader named Jeffrey Sewell, who steals the show as Mrs. Potts’ little teacup.
Don’t miss the chance to see a first rate production of a Broadway show the whole family will adore. BEAUTY plays through March 4th.