BWW Review: MSMT'S Opulent BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Offers Pure Enchantment
With what is arguably the largest production in Maine State Music Theatre's history, the company brings a level of opulence, sophistication, and magic to the Pickard stage that makes this production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast a fitting jewel in the Diamond Jubilee Crown. It is no secret that the company has used every single ounce of its resources (and overcome a number of unforeseen obstacles along the way) to create this magnificent production, but the result has been entirely worth the effort. This beloved fairytale dazzlingly comes to life in all its heartfelt beauty.
Directors/choreographers Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark have a long and intimate history with the work. Robin has created memorable prior productions, most notably the visionary incarnation at the Fulton Theatre in 2016, using some of the same cast and creatives, and Clark, for whom the Beast has been a signature role, has been able to bring an actor's insight to the characters. Together, they create a visual and emotional world of intensity, delicacy, whimsicality, wit, and wonder. The choreography is stunning and lavish; "Be Our Guest" alone is worth the price of admission! They understand how to make the narrative compelling and the characters genuine; they invest the story with a humanity and love that renders it transformative.
Music Director Brian Cimmet (with Assistant Music Director Ben McNaboe) conducts the ten-person orchestra in this, Alan Menken/Howard Ashman/Tim Rice musical with sweeping élan and true romanticism, and he draws powerful vocal performances from the cast. Tom Ryan's set design with its beautiful painterly drops and Dan Efros' (Assistant Ryan Swift Joyner) projections manage to be both imposing and ephemeral, defying the confines of the space and conjuring up the iconic magical moments, such as the library, the ballroom, the dark woods, the village, all with storybook eloquence. Jeffrey S. Koger's lighting is no small factor in creating the two worlds of the play - the village and woods and the enchanted castle - using neutrals and earth tones to contrast with the blues, haze, and candlelight of the Beast's castle. Costume designer Ryan Moller (wigs by Gerard James Kelly) has outdone himself creating fanciful, beautifully crafted, sumptuously adorned garments that pay homage to the Disney images, yet add touches of uniqueness. The creations for the castle's enchanted inhabitants who have become objects are particularly striking and clever, from the imposing wardrobe for Madame. De la Grande Bouche to Mrs. Potts' very English floral teapot look. Sound designer Shannon Slaton creates a fine balance between orchestra and the large ensemble, while Stage Manager Mark Johnson (Assistant Stage Manager) rises expertly to the challenges of this complex production.
The cast of thirty-two forms a dynamic, vibrant ensemble with every character - both large and small - fully fleshed out and individualized. In the title roles Lexi Rabadi as Belle and Darick Pead as the Beast sparkle. Rabadi, who reprises this part from the Fulton production, has an energy and vibrancy that make Belle undauntable; she exudes individuality and confidence, bravery, and determination, all the while radiating an inner beauty of spirit that ultimately proves transformative. Vocally, she brings a bright, youthful soprano capable of nuance and palpable emotion, and she lights up the stage in every one of her scenes. Darick Pead, who has played the Beast on national tour, makes a perfect foil for this Belle. Beneath trappings of the Beast, he harbors a childish willfulness as well as vulnerability, and he makes the character's journey to redemption one of empathetic struggle. His big act one number, "If I Can't Love Her" is heartbreaking and uplifting.
Matthew Ragas conjures up the narcissistic Gaston with a combination of outrageousness, obtuseness, and understated parody, and he delivers memorable vocal moments such as he pompous, macho rendition of "Me." James Patterson brings down the house as Lumière, brilliantly evoking the Maurice Chevalier inspiration for the character, delivering his lines with perfect accent, cadence, and comic timing. He uses his rich resonant baritone to fill the house and dazzle in a no holds barred "Be Our Guest." Paula Scrofano makes a tender and wise Mrs. Potts, and her rendition of the title song has a bittersweet wistfulness that tugs at the heartstrings. John Reeger's feisty, proper Cogsworth proves a memorable character turn.
Bria Jene' Williams is a sexy, provocative Babette; as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Susan Moniz spoofs the opera diva perfectly both vocally and dramatically; Ethan Carlson makes a perfect comic foil to Gatson, a sympathetic, acrobatic, puppy-dog Le Fou, while Glenn Anderson projects the quirky gentleness of Belle's father Maurice. Young Aymeric Dauge-Roth is a perky, bright-voiced Chip; Reagan Danel Ogle, Elisabeth Christie, and Kelly Liz Bolick play the silly village girls to the hilt. Buddy Reeder serves as the always amazing Dance Captain, while Michael Buchanan gives an appropriately nasty turn as Monsieur D'Arque. Rounding out the excellent triple threat ensemble in smaller roles are Jessie Lawyer as the Enchantress, Michael Olaribigbe as the energetic dancing/tumbling Carpet, Dan Bob Higgins as the Prince's Double, and Matty Rickard, Glenn Davis, Drew Carr, Alec Duffy Talbot, Jake Hartman, Caleb James Grochalski, Melaina Corey Rairamo, Stevie Ann Mack, Lauren McDonald, and Carissa Gaughran. The youth ensemble features Jelena Mitrovic, Remington Crawford, and Sophia Scott.
In recent years MSMT has created increasingly complex and lavish productions worthy of Broadway or the West End. This Beauty and the Beast pens a new chapter in that journey. Though it is "a tale as old as time," Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark's production will make you feel as if you are experiencing its magic for the very first time. There is a freshness, an immediacy, a genuineness, and a childlike wonder that are spellbinding. They cross the footlights and invite the audience to enter this transformative world and to experience what great theatre always delivers: pure enchantment.
Photographs courtesy of MSMT, Roger Duncan, photographer
Disney's Beauty and the Beast runs at MSMT's Pickard Theater from June 28-July 14, 2018 www.msmt.org 207-725-8769