BWW Review: Cape Cod Theatre Company's Triumphant BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Is A Fable For Our Time

BWW Review: Cape Cod Theatre Company's Triumphant BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Is A Fable For Our Time
Madison Mayer as Belle, Brittany Rolfs as Mrs. Potts, Kathy Hamilton as Madame de La Grande Bouche, and Angelina Manchuk as Chip in Cape Cod Theatre Company's Beauty and the Beast.
Photo Credit: Emma Quinn Photography

HARWICH, MA - Director Jane Staab's Beauty & the Beast is a fable for our time, emphasizing the humanity of its enchanted castle's "objects" (and even its titular beast), while stressing the power of kindness and the promise of change. The themes run throughout this show - from its winning, broad comedy to its vivid, heartfelt moments.

"Gaston is the 'monster' here," Staab says. Indeed, Brian (B.C.) Williams' imposing Gaston physically strong-arms Belle (the extraordinary, 17-year-old Madison Mayer), Le Fou (the charismatic Andrew Barbato), and all others who cross his path, aptly accentuating the character. In contrast, Alex G. Boyle's beast follows an anguished-to-endearing arc, with liberal doses of arrogant and rude instead of menacing.

"I wanted this production to be very real - to be grounded and very human," Staab adds after a recent weeknight performance in which she also took the stage as corrupt asylum director Monsieur D'Arque. "This particular script is so beautifully written. It has more depth than most fairy tales. And it has a woman's sensitivity, sensibility, and sense of humor. That's rare for a Broadway show."

The book for Disney's Beauty and the Beast is written by Linda Woolverton. This is the third time Staab has directed the show.

"We have little girls coming in their Belle skirts, making a statement about this character that means so much to them," she continues. "And they're also learning something profound and important about how to live in society."

Indeed, this production's Belle is strong in every way. Mayer's vocal strength and control make quick work of the show's power ballads as well as its softer moments. Similarly, she makes physical scenes (whether facing down wolves or evading the aggressively amorous Gaston) and intricate dance numbers (spanning several styles and sometimes several minutes) seem effortless. Her stage presence lends Belle strength even when the character is motionless, refusing to come down for dinner. Mayer was trained in the CCTC Harwich Junior Theatre education program, and can already punctuate a line with a tilt of her head or the raise of an eyebrow.

BWW Review: Cape Cod Theatre Company's Triumphant BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Is A Fable For Our Time
Madison Mayer as Belle and Alex G. Boyle as the Beast in Cape Cod Theatre Company's Beauty and the Beast. Photo Credit: Emma Quinn Photography

At two and half hours, Staab opted to leave in songs that other productions cut, such as Belle's A Change in Me. "These songs are holding up a mirror to society. They show us who we are and who we could be. They tell us that people can change. That we can be better. This musical is about becoming human again - it's the crux of the whole story, and a reflection of what we need to happen in this country. Good can come from bad."

Staab also reaches beyond the central storyline to emphasize other relationships that demonstrate the power of kindness to transform - especially those between Belle and Maurice (the deft and gifted Ted Vitale); Mrs. Potts (the superb Brittany Rolfs, who left us wanting more of her impeccable voice and poignant performance) and Chip (the bright and spirited Angelina Manchuk); and even Belle and Lumiere (the delightful Brad Foster Reinking). Their well-paced scenes and lingering interactions add rich layers to a show that's often played in two dimensions.

BWW Review: Cape Cod Theatre Company's Triumphant BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Is A Fable For Our Time
Madison Mayer as Belle and Ted Vitale as Maurice in Cape Cod Theatre Company's Beauty and the Beast.
Photo Credit: Emma Quinn Photography

Despite the length, this show glides - in part because this stage is always in motion. "Visuals are very important to teaching children and adults," Staab explains. "I direct [to highlight] what we want theatre to mean to people."

Helping that cause is Laurel Conrad's inventive, enchanting, and ever present choreography. It enjoys big moments like wolves in ballet with their prey; a raucous tavern scene including an intricate mug dance executed flawlessly by the company; the sweeping delights of Be Our Guest and Beauty and the Beast; and the especially well executed transformation of beast back into human prince. It's also evident in smaller moments, whether an interlude within a signature number or a scene shift with as many as 20 company members on stage at once. The attention to detail helps lift the entire production, and is no small feat given Melissa Miller and Frances Covais Lautenberger's delightfully clever, and sometimes voluminous, costumes.

An equal accomplice to Staab's vision, on two levels, is James P. Byrne. His enigmatic and resourceful set design effortlessly shifts from village to forest to castle and back. He's a master of CCTC's intimate stage. Byrne also fashions a delightfully frantic Cogsworth, who at times renders Reinking's Lumiere the brains of the outfit. They amuse as a comic duo.

It's no surprise that this limited-run production is proving popular with adults as well as children. On a recent Thursday evening, more than half the sold-out audience arrived without kids in tow. And the connection between audience and characters develops so strongly that this audience erupted in seemingly involuntary applause as each character emerged in human form during the final scene.

As the opener to the Cape Cod Theatre Company's summer season, Beauty and the Beast foreshadows more stories of redemption and transformation, says longtime producing artistic director Nina K. Schuessler. On stage through July 15th, Beauty and the Beast is followed by The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (July 20th - August 5th) and The Emperor's New Clothes (August 10th - 26th). Running weekend nights (July 27th - August 26th) will be The Marvelous Wonderettes, the off-Broadway favorite tracing the friendship of four women from high school through mid-life, which shares the transformations theme.

The multi-generational stories, Schuessler adds, were chosen to appeal to both children and adults: "We've got a love story, an adventure story, and a fable. Stories like these help children understand what all the discourse in the country right now is about, no matter what side of the aisle it's coming from. And The Emperor's New Clothes makes a statement about society - to be aware of how our leaders portray themselves. And that children are the truth tellers in our society - they help adults realize what's important."

Disney's Beauty and the Beast, The Broadway Musical. Through July 15th at Cape Cod Theatre Company | Harwich Junior Theatre. Tuesday through Thursday at 7pm. Friday through Sunday at 4pm. Tickets at www.capecodtheatrecompany.org.

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From This Author Michele Clarke

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