Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Beauty and the Beast
The fresh and superior new production of Disney Theatrical's stage musical Beauty and the Beast now on stage at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse reminds us that not only is Beauty a top notch family musical, but it is also a classic American stage musical, gorgeously and romantically operatic, delightfully high spirited, richly amusing, and emotionally involving.
Linda Woolverton (book), Alan Menken (music), and Tim Rice (lyrics)along with Disney Theatrical producer Thomas Schumacherwere not satisfied to simply shoehorn in several peripheral new songs and situations to provide the bloat to exploit the assets of the 1991 Disney movie on the Broadway stage. While retaining the movie's superior score of seven songs written by Menken and the late Howard Ashman (lyrics) as well as the cut from the movie Menken-Ashman song "Human Again," Woolverton and her colleagues constructed a traditional two-act musical providing a structure for the inclusion of both a first act curtain song, a second act finale, and six additional new songs that are fully integrated, and character and plot driven.
Menken and Rice produced eight excellent new songs which complement and enhance the Menken-Ashman score. For the greater part, their new songs are lush and stunning ballads which enhance the development of Belle and Gaston and their relationship, thus expanding the volume and range of the original movie score, while leaving intact the sharp lyrical wit that is the hallmark of Howard Ashman.
Producing Artistic Director Mark S. Hoebee has assembled an extraordinary cast whose skills, energy and enthusiasm are off the charts. No stranger to Beauty and The Beast (he spent a decade on Broadway singing and dancing in it), Hoebee provides a richly detailed production in which his cast fills every stage moment with vibrant life.
The charming Belinda Allyn is an endearing and robust Belle. Starting with her delightful opening "Belle," Allyn effortlessly enchants with her unforced lyrical voice. In the second act, the beauty and power of her "A Change in Me" received a show-stopping response. It seems that this song was inserted for Toni Braxton during the Broadway run and then remained in the show where it fits seamlessly. Tally Sessions portrays the Beast with compelling conviction, singing his powerful operatic ballads with unencumbered clarity of tone and power. His impressive "If I Can't Love Her" brings the first act to a stirring close.
Stephen Mark Lucas brings a strong voice and appropriately bilious cluelessness to the role of Gaston. Kevin Curtis is a breath of fresh air as Gaston's acolyte Lefou. Looking incredibly youthful, Curtis exudes delightful comic energy and his dance movement is extraordinarily lithe.
Gavin Lee brings his terrifically stylish dance movement and bright stage personality to the role of Lumiere. Kevin Ligon is an ideal and perfectly delightful Cogsworth. Joel Blum remains as warmly delightful and ingratiating as ever as Belle's father Maurice. Stacia Fernandez is an ideal, sweetly sung Mrs. Potts. Also delightful is Donna English as Madame de la Grande Bouche. What magic has been wrought to bring all these wonderful Broadway veterans so delightfully together here for this production.
The choreography of Alex Sanchez is exhilarating throughout. "Be My Guest" remains a totally delightful showstopper. The scenery (credited to Kelly James Tighe) gets the job done. The prologue designed here as a shadow puppet play is exceptionally well conceived and executed. The costume design (Leon Dobkowski), enchanted objects design (Halsey Onstage), and lighting design (Charlie Morrison) are all first rate.
Twenty-five years after its Broadway opening, this extraordinarily well cast and directed production provides us with a not to be missed opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the ground-breaking stage musical version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast, through July 3, 2019, at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn NJ. Evenings: Tuesday (6/18 & 7/2 only), Wednesday-Sunday 7:00 PM; Matinees: Wednesday (6/26 & 7/3 only), Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 1:30 pm. For tickets and information, call the box office at 973-376-4343 or visit www.papermill.org