Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Disney's Beauty and the Beast
That's what happens in Beauty and the Beast now playing at the Albuquerque Little Theatre. Beautifully directed by Laura Nuzum, it has exactly the magic I imagined as a child. The grandness, the beauty, the evil, and the extremes which make fairy tales real: all the elements necessary to believe in a world where good is eventually rewarded, and evil is punished with severity enough to please even the most bloodthirsty of children.
The original story was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, based on the tragic and true story of a certain Diane de Rossan. It told the tale of a beautiful widow who decided to marry a man of her own choosing. Unfortunately, he was very jealous. In an effort to discredit her, the groom's two brothers plotted her seduction. When this endevour failed, they resolved to murder her, which, with her new husband's permission, they did. First published in 1740, this excessively complex, 100-page story was simplified by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756, and it is this streamlined version which laid the foundation of the tale we know today.
Folk or fairy tales occur in all societies, oral histories becoming written, reshaped and tailored to fit the social mores of the era. For example, the original "La Belle et Le Bête" was almost a form of marriage counselling, teaching a stern lesson to females about accepting their subservient place in lifeand like chattel, to agree to marrying almost complete strangers for political and/or financial gain. Obedience and acknowledging the wisdom of your elders was the order of the day, usually to improve their family's social status.
Almost two hundred years later in 1946, filmmaker Jean Cocteau revised and tempered de Beaumont's adaptation, and in a charming, creative, and very romantic telling, his incarnationstill admired todayof "La Belle et Le Bête" (with the addition of the villain Avenant) formed the basis for Disney's 1991 full length animated film Beauty and the Beast. This motion picture single-handedly revived the company's failing animation department, and in 1994 found even greater glories in its stage adaptation.
This production sings and dances, parading across the beautifully designed and constructed stage set, in one of the loveliest theaters in Albuquerque. And it's as wonderful as all fairy tales should be. In the legend made into celluloid magic by Disney, there is still something about a stage version every child, even grown-up ones, should experience.
Enchanting and delightful, the entire cast without exception, are splendid throughout. This is not a show which needs more rehearsal prior to opening, as some do. This show is ready and hungry for an audience, and you will be charmed, totally and unashamedly, from beginning to end.
Staying true to the script while adding extra little enhancements to the characters, Nuzum obviously had a lot of fun with her production. Megan Chavez' Belle is the lovely, lively, intellectual heroine. Though selflessly offering herself as captive in return for her father's freedom, Belle is no pushover. She knows her own worth, refuses to be bullied, and is just fine with being considered different. Gone is the downtrodden, passive and servile Belle of yester-year. Not for her the cowering female role. Kind yet independent, this Belle is a stronger role model for girls today. And Chavez leads us through her journey with finesse, charm, wit, and a beautiful singing voice.
Cursed by an enchantress for his boorishness, the Beast, played by Mark Pino, is a sad, remorseful grotesque figure with somewhat Freudian horns. He, along with his household servants, are doomed to remain under a spell unless he can learn humility. Then, by learning to give and receive love before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, he can earn release for them all and be transformed back into a Prince. Pino's Beast shares with us his difficulties understanding true love to be more sacrificial than selfish. So we learn to value him as a person, despite his outward appearance, thereby appreciating the value of inner character over possessions.
Avenant, the villainous character of Cocteau's film, becomes the rogue Gaston. Stuart Neef has the time of his life inhabiting this deliciously self-absorbed, egotistical idiot, and he owns the stage every time he appears. Neef is fantastican animated human character reimagined as human. So funny, so brilliant, he seems to have an absolute blast onstage. Neef is the standout performer of this show. On the night I saw it, his chest hair decided to compete for attention, bringing an entirely new, and hilarious, dimension to his character. You must see him and his sidekick LeFou (Santiago Baca), a wonderful acolyte.
This production's Lumiere (Lando Ruiz) and Cogsworth (James Creighton) are truly magnificent, a riot of repartee and banter with adorable accents. They enjoy themselves and each other very much on stage, managing to gain our sympathy for their plight even as we laugh at their antics, especially with feather duster Babette (Michelle Eiland).
Chip's (Emily Peacock) smiley face is delightful. Peacock's ability to constantly stay in character is admirable, keeping audience attention firmly focused on the action around her. And what's not to love about Megan McCormick's Mrs. Potts? She too is terrificI thoroughly enjoyed her "Beauty and the Beast" solo. I do not know how she manages to hold her arm up as the teapot spout for all that time. My own shoulder hurt on her behalf.
Musically, this production nails it. Kudos to music director Cheryl Sharps. The high level of talent is (thankfully) harmoniously consistent and sustainedand often uproarious. I wanted the number "Gaston" to replay itself over and over. As sidesplitting as "Be Our Guest" is charming, there are some numbers which are not in the movie, being written specifically for the stage in order to move the story along. All are performed skillfully, be they individually, as a group, or in ensemble. Notable too are the dance routines. Under choreographer Peter Bennett, talent and technique abound on a stage almost too small to contain it. Among many other displays (dancing flatware!), the artistry displayed by the wolves with their flashing eyes, on their murderous missions, is impressive.
The costumes perfectly attuned by Joe Moncada, whose work I have admired many times before, are in total harmony with the director's vision for the production. I must offer a shout-out to the costuming and dressing teams. Your hard work does you all a great deal of credit, as does Natalie Hadley's wig designMaurice's hair, so like Einstein's, looks as if it has been brushed with a balloon. I don't see attributes to the makeup artist(s), but whoever you are, your talents and your attention to detail are exemplary.
Replete with perfect props (including suicidal rose petals), the set is a treat, working flawlessly. Imaginative, creative and somewhat whimsical, it enhances this stellar show. The complexities are not initially apparent, until suddenly, a little perfectly timed magic happens, with lights, sound, and special effects coming together beautifully.
The sight-lines from where I was seated (in G7), were the only hiccup apparent the night I attended. I'm sure this has since been addressed. Many audience members seated in my section had difficulty seeing much of the stage-left action, while movement and crew in the off-stage area (through the stage right wings) were visible for much of the show.
Altogether, this is a delightful show, loving, funny, romantic, and so thoughtfully put together. Truly a balm to assuage this world of increasing negativity, so make a point to see it. There were quite a few children in the audience, many of them dressed up for the occasion. Two happy and starry eyed little girls, sisters, were almost dancing with excitement when the show endedtheir father had bought each of them a rose (in a stroke of marketing genius, single roses are sold at the concession stand) to give to Belle when she and other cast members came out to greet the audience. They made me wish for a moment, just a moment, that I too, had small children.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast runs through March 29, 2020, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will also be ASL performances on Saturday, March 14 at 2 p.m. (please contact the box office to make reservations), and Thursday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: Adults $25, seniors (65+) $23, students (13 University) $21, and children (12 and Under) $17. For tickets and information, please call 505-242-4750 x 2 or visit http://www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org.