Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Beauty and the Beast
Musical Theatre Southwest
Review by Rob Spiegel


Image courtesy of Musical Theatre Southwest
Every holiday season, Musical Theatre Southwest (MTS) moves from its black box space, south of the state fairgrounds and produces a family-friendly musical in the sweet African American Performing Arts Center. Last year it was The Little Mermaid and the year before it was Shrek the Musical. This year, MTS is parading out the first Disney animated film transferred to the stage, Beauty and the Beast, in a lush and energetic production.

Disney under CEO Michael Eisner took a big chance bringing its feature-length cartoon to the stage in 1994. Yet the animated feature was perfectly suited for the stage, with its Broadway-ready songs and built-in adoring audience. The Broadway community was skeptical, since Disney chose outsiders to direct and produce the play, relying on its own theme-park theater team. Critics mostly gave the Broadway production a thumbs down.

However, audiences loved the show, supporting it through nearly 5,500 performances and putting it in the top ten of Broadway's longest-running productions. While many in the theatre community likened Beauty and the Beast to a New York tourist attraction, the musical's success ushered in a parade of shows based on Disney animated blockbusters, from Aladdin to the mammothly successful The Lion King. The success of Beauty and the Beast also fueled non-Disney family feature movies to stage, from The Addams Family to Shrek the Musical.

MTS has done a nice job staging Beauty in the Beast for Albuquerque audiences. The production is ready-made for kids who grew up on the animated feature—the first of the genre to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. I attended the MTS feature with my 23-year-old daughter who has seen the feature probably 200 times. For a good portion of those viewings, I was in the room if not actually watching the action. With that degree of exposure, the story and music gets under your skin.

In converting the film, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, and a book by Linda Woolverton, to a stage production, several changes were made. Tim Rice, from Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita fame, was brought in to provide additional lyrics, since Ashman had passed away earlier, and Woolverton augmented her original book to deepen the drama.

One of the most notable changes was the story of the servants-turned-objects. Instead of becoming actual household objects, they are slowing turning into these objects. This heightens the sense of impending doom to match the petal-after-petal falling from the rose that indicates the time before the beast curse becomes permanent. These are nice touches to an already strong narrative.

This production is directed well by David Bryant, an MTS veteran who did an excellent job last year with The Addams Family. All the key roles are delivered well, including Adrianne Lytle as Belle, J.J. Mancini as the Beast, and Lando Ruiz as Gaston. One exceptional standout is Danny McBride as Lumiere. Most of all, it's a terrific ensemble production well delivered by cast and crew under Bryant's steady hand.

Beauty and the Beast, directed by David Bryant for Musical Theatre Southwest, at the African American Performing Arts Center at 310 San Pedro NE through January 1, 2016. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. General admission is $22. For seniors, students and ATC members, admission is $20. Tickets for children under 12 are $15. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at musicaltheatresw.com.


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