The fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” was written in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve; it was rewritten in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.
It took more than 200 years for someone to think about bringing the enduring tale to the screen with Jean Cocteau’s 1946 classic “La Belle et la Bête” and another amost half a century before Disney brought out its animated version of the film in 1991.
But it was only a short 3 years later, in 1994, that Disney had the idea to remake the story into a Broadway show – the rest is musical history.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” with book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, is the story of a not-so-charming prince. When his father died, his mother placed the prince in the care of an evil fairy who falls in love with the prince as he grows into manhood and asks him to marry her. The prince refuses her advances so the witch turns him into a hideous beast and condemns his household staff to take the shape of animated inanimate objects that they care for in the palace. Unless the prince learns his lesson of love and humility, he and his staff are doomed to continue their transformations for eternity.
Time is growing short for the beast to repent when a bankrupted merchant happens by his castle on his way home to his family and takes shelter therein. The next morning, as the merchant leaves, he picks a rose for Belle, his beautiful daughter. The Beast appears and says his life is forfeited for stealing the rose but agrees to allow the merchant to go home to his daughter if he promises to return or send Belle in his stead.
The selfless Belle returns and, over time, shows the Beast that to love what may first appear a negative thing can bring benefits which virtue and selflessness can bestow on a person. Once the lesson is learned, the spell is broken and the Beast becomes a handsome Prince while his staff regains their humanity — and the all live happily ever after!
Once more, Director Jon Douglas Rake fills the TMP stage with an enormous cast of 38 to tell this simple story of love and selflessness. Rake has a knack for choosing the right people for the right roles and moves them about the stage in song and dance with aplomb.
The other half of the TMP team, Musical Director Jeffrey Stvrtecky, completes the picture of success of the productions mounted at this theatre. Each man does what they do best and compliments the other’s efforts to a “T.”
Rake takes care of leading the cast about the stage in line interpretation and dance and Stvrtecky makes sure they hit the right notes. Stvrtecky leads the singers while he conducts the TMP orchestra which is comprised of Judy Lantz and sub Roxane Hreha on flute and piccolo; Rachel Best and sub Gail Perstein on oboe and English horn; Jenessa Stout, clarinet/bass clarinet; Mark Willis, French horn; Rick Leffler, trumpet; Iris McBride, percussions/drums; and Addison Daniels handling the OrchExtra.
Judy Cullen does the scenic design, which gives the cast a multi-facet set upon which to work, including an upstage curtain painted with a typical medieval French township, Belle’s house stage right, the town market place and the huge doors to the castle hidden among the forest.
John Chenault does the lighting design. Jocelyne Fowler adds her winning costume design with the help of her assistant Grace Stone. The colorful costumes enhance the beauty of the production, as well as the eeriness of the Beast’s costume.
The Ensemble, Villagers and Enchanted Objects are played by Josh Anderman, Heather Arneson, Kennedy Arneson, Royce Daley, Nick Fitzgerald, James Fesalbon, Zachary Forbes, Brynne Geiszler, Jill Heinecke, Joel Larson, Jennifer Niehaus-Rivers, Kiana Norman-Slack, Emily Riesser, Emily Saletan, Kelli Scott, Amelia Stiles, Corey Thompson, Chailia Wendland, Tony Williams and Julia Wyman. These 20 performers are amazing. They dance about the stage maintaining their characters no matter how weird they may be, like tableware or napkins, dinner plates or even strange human-like creatures. They are all on stage at the end of Act 1 in the production number “Be our Guest,” dancing and singing beautifully. Special note for young Kennedy Arneson, as Carpet, for her gymnastic abilities during a couple of full-cast numbers.
The other 18 cast members include Dylan Rivers as the Young Prince; the boy, who when he grows up spurns the affections of the witch, which causes all the problems. Kathy Kluska is that spurned Enchantress. Kluska does her usual good job as the jolted fairy turned bad.
Emma Deloye, Corissa DeVerse and Cassandra DeChant are the three Silly Girls who are so much in love with Gaston, that they are just plain – well – Silly!
Cameron Waters is Monsieur D’Arque, the slimy, creepy and conniving bad guy Gaston gets to help him win Belle. Luckily, he doesn’t succeed, but he is awfully slimy, creepy and conniving.
Alyson Jacobs-Lake plays Babette, the French Maid, who acts just like all French Maids are purported to act.
Karen Early-Evans plays Madame de la Grande Bouche. Early-Evans has a glorious soprano voice coming out of the charming chest of drawers, which she wears with seeming ease.
Joe Woodland is Maurice, Belle’s father who just had to bring a rose home for his lovely daughter — a good father, but a dumb move. Woodland is dutifully repentant for his error.
Diane Bozzo is Mrs. Potts, the Beast’s tea pot which is about 50 percent china and 50 percent human. Bozzo is charming as the charmed pot who has the added duty of chauffeuring around her little Chip (off the old pot), played by Howy Howard, the equally charming cup who dwells atop a teacart. Both tea servers add beautifully to the show and bring a tear to the audience’s eye when Chip asks, “Will I live long enough to be a real boy again?”
Cherisse Martinelli plays our heroine, Belle, as a somewhat demure, somewhat outspoken young lady with a good musical comedy singing voice and good dance moves. Martinelli shows her initial fear of the Beast and how her love for her father helps her overcome that feeling which changes to sympathy and then love.
Brandon Hell gives TMP audiences a bold debut performance as the duel role of The Beast and Prince Adam. Hell’s Beast is a fearful creature with atrocious table manners which Belle softens into the human characteristics he shows at the end of the show.
Chris Serface turns in a memorable performance as Cogsworth, the portly clock which leads the animated furnishings of the Beast’s castle. Serface assumes his leadership role with ease of familiarity and confidence accompanied by a good singing voice.
Jimmi Cook makes TMP debut as Gaston, the villager who insists he will marry Belle – with or without her consent. Never has there been an actor more perfectly cast in a role in demeanor and plain physical appearance. Cook, dressed in tight-fitting, black leather pants, 20-league boots and a red form-fitting shirt with a yellow collar is the epitome of the character displaying bulging muscles at the bend of an arm – and he sings, too!
Jake Atwood turns in his usual excellent performance as Lefou, Gaston’s whipping boy, who takes the brunt of the self-admired anti-hero. Atwood shows his limber flexibility as he is bounced about the stage when his “pal” becomes frustrated.
Mauro Bozzo is simply elegant as Lumiere, the frozen half human, half candlestick (Brava, great costume, Fowler.) Bozzo dances about the stage singing his instructions, in a perfect French accent, to the other furnishings and flirting with Babette as he holds his oversized candelabra hands at right angles so the wax doesn’t drip as the actor turns on and off the ‘flame” there in.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” continues at Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue, just east of Jackson, through July 29, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or go online to www.tmp.org.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” has something for the whole family. Opening night’s audience had many boomers as excited at meeting the cast after the show as were the children. All loved the music and the glorious color.
In a deft casting decision orchestrated by Director Jon Douglas Rake, TMP’s Managing Artistic Director cast the Managing Artistic Director of 100-year-old Tacoma Little Theatre Chris Serface as Cogsworth and cast John Munn, the Managing Artistic Director of 80-year-old Lakewood Playhouse as the Prologue Narrator, thus demonstrating the respect and camaraderie between the three leading “community” theatres in our wonderful Pierce county artistic family.