Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Desert Theatricals At Rancho Mirage Amphitheater

The production is now closed.

Previews: SUMMER KIDS CAMP 2023 at Palm Canyon Theatre

Emily Rose Unnasch as BelleAs many of you know, the original fairy tales (and not just Grimm) were not only fantastical but, in many cases, downright violent.

Beauty and the Beast was originally in The Brothers Grimm's compendium of German folklore (note: the etymology of the word "grim" is not from their name however the name does mean cruel and fierce) but the story was later removed as the original was found to be French and written in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and it was a doozy. Not only did Belle have 10 siblings, it featured monkeys who communicated through talking parrots, and baby snatching. Most film and stage adaptations use the less complicated, abridged version by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.

The first film of the fairy tale was also French, written and directed by Jean Cocteau and followed in successive decades by four more adaptations in various languages including a Czech fantasy/horror version in 1978.

It was finally Disney-fied in 1991 in an award-winning animated film with Angela Landsbury voicing Mrs. Potts. The stage adaptation premiered on Broadway three years later and was based on Linda Woolverton's screenplay. Since then, there have been five more films of the same name, many others with different names based on the story, and countless productions of the Disney musical at regional theaters across America.

Saturday night, I had the delight of attending one of the latter at the Rancho Mirage Amphitheater produced by the multi-talented Limon/Carr team known as Desert Theatricals.

You'd have to be Nell ("tay ina win" anyone?) or wolf boy not to know the story of Beauty and the Beast, but I'll give you the cliff notes anyway. Belle (Emily Rose Unnash) is the only child to a single dad, Maurice (Don Savage) who is known as the town kook because he's an inventor. Gaston (Jim Hormel) is a handsome but vain and egocentric man with a constant sidekick and sycophant by the name of LeFou (Alex Compomizzi). Gaston is set on marrying Belle. She can't stand him, and would rather read the same book on a loop rather than be around him.

One night Maurice gets lost in the woods and seeks accommodations at the Beast's (Joe Savant) opulent mansion. He incurs the Beast's wrath and is imprisoned. Belle sets out to find daddy, and offers herself in exchange for his life. The Beast accepts.

Belle learns to love the Beast, who is actually an "disenchanted" prince who is turning into the Beast. In fact the entire castle is "disenchanted" with people who are becoming household objects.

Gaston wants to kill the Beast for imprisoning Belle. There's a big fight and the Beast almost dies, but Belle tells him she loves him, the spell is broken, and he's a handsome young prince again. Le Fin.

Previews: SUMMER KIDS CAMP 2023 at Palm Canyon TheatreIn the hands of Choreographer/Director Ray Limon, the show is a delightful romp with a couple of BIG numbers. I can't get the spectacular Be Our Guest out of my inner reel. The entire set comes to life with plates, and utensils and all of the half-baked inanimate objects that were once entire human beings. The energy on that stage was mesmerizing.

Leading the charge on the household front is Lumiere, the wise cracking ever burning and melting candlestick with an eye for the ladies. Kellen Green does a terrific job in the role; he was charming and his comic timing and delivery made him my guest's favorite character.

While Lumiere is the charming comic of the castle, Le Fou is the idiot clown of the village. Compomizzi throws everything he's got into this role while also acknowledging that he knows he's over the top. Nicely layered performance by Compomizzi.

Our third comic foil is Cogsworth, deftly played by Tom Warrick. Cogsworth is turning into a clock, and the character serves as a reminder that they are all running out of time. Soon they will no longer be human. The entire castle is a well-knit ensemble with Babette (Bella Healy), a sexy French maid who is turning into a feather duster. Healy lights up the stage every moment she is on it. She is the feather duster, flitting on the stage with a wink and a flirt, and off it with the same light touch.

Mrs. Potts (Beverly Crain), the teapot, and mother of Chip (Sam Rekuc), who is turning into a teacup, are the heart of the castle. Crain sings the show's eponymous song beautifully and I'm going to admit I never saw any version of the movie or musical before and had no idea it wasn't sung by the leads. I've only heard the Celine Dion/Peabo Bryson version. Crain as Mrs. Potts embodies the warmth of the teapot with motherly love and pragmatic advice.

Kelly McDaniel's Madame Labouche brightens the stage in the same way a piccolo brightens an orchestra. Her voice cuts through the entire company and the orchestra with a precise and beautiful first soprano. It's all very joyful work by the entire house staff ensemble.

Previews: SUMMER KIDS CAMP 2023 at Palm Canyon Theatre
Gaston (Jim Hormel) and Le Fou (Alex Compomizzi)

Jim Hormel's Gaston is the perfect animated villain. He even looks like a handsome cartoon baddie. His two standout numbers were Me and Gaston, two songs that embody who Gaston is: an egocentric playboy who wants the one thing he can't have: Belle. Hormel is hilarious in the role, perfectly over the top.

Don Savage as Maurice, Belle's dad, also does a fine job as the hapless old inventor, and that brings us to our two leads: Emily Unnasch as Belle and Joe Savant as the Beast.

Savant is a fine actor with a rich baritone and generally nailed his songs. The exception was the first act closer, If I Can't Love Her. It was his first big number and I hadn't heard enough of him to know his full capacity. After hearing him in the second act, my guess is he couldn't hear himself during the song because everything else he gave us was beautifully rich and equally as lovelorn. In fact, he nailed the reprise in Act II, so it seems likely to be a technical issue. While the castle set was revealed to ooos and aahs, the Beast does the (apologies for this) lion's share of its navigation, climbing taller set pieces and it didn't seem particularly effortless. Still Savant gave a us a scary and romantic Beast. He's gruff yet surprisingly charming like Roy in Ted Lasso but with the Beast has the added charm of imprisonment.

Christian Fonte gave us a handsome and vocally lovely Prince, and for as much as I enjoyed the show, the old Beast to Prince switcheroo with the smoke machine hid nothing. In the end, does it really matter as the crowd laughingly went along with the non-deception? I have just come to expect more out of this company. But, you know, smoke machines outdoors do have their challenges. But I stand by that critique because they're a clever company and again, I expected more. But just on that front. The main point is, the show and the actors were delicious.

I am a fan of Emily Rose Unnsach, so I wasn't surprised by her acting chops nor her gorgeous vocals. This is pretty ridiculous, but what did capture my fancy was the way she moved across the stage like a cartoon princess. She didn't walk as much as seemed to glide on air. She was fully a Disney princess, and although Belle is a maiden in distress she is not a dumb blonde who needs rescuing like Sleeping Beauty. She is a smart protagonist with a strong sense of self despite being an exchange hostage.

Which brings us back to Ray Limon who directed and choreographed. He's a terrific director, but his choreography is always chef's kiss*. From Belle's walk to the massive all ensemble (who are all terrific) numbers, every number was captivating.

Carr stepped back as musical director on this one but skillfully conducted the orchestra which included musical director Leigh Ann Sutherlin on piano. The orchestra sounded nice and fat, which is what you want in a big production like this one.

I have seen a lot of musicals by this company, and so far this is my favorite with Annie Get Your Gun coming in second. Closing out this year's season is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I suggest you book now. They always sell out dinner seats months in advance and pack the regular seats for each too short production that runs only one weekend per month. I wish more had the opportunity to see this company's work. It's regional musical theater at its finest, and this former musical theater denier always walk away smiling.

Get your tickets to Joseph Click Here


Producers: Ray Limon, Joshua Carr/Desert Theatricals

Presenting Partner: City of Rancho Mirage

Director/Choreographer: Ray Limon

Musical Director: Leigh Anne Sutherlin


Belle: Emily Rose Unnasch

Beast: Joe Savant

Gaston: Jim Hormel

LeFou: Alex Compomizzi

Maurice: Don Savage

Lumiere: Kellen Green

Babette: Bella Healy

Cogsworth: Tom Warrick

Mrs. Potts: Beverly Crain

Chip: Sam Rekuc

Madame Bouche: Kelly McDaniel

D'Arque: Bob Drake

Prince/Ensemble: Christian Fonte

Ensemble: Peter Zappia, Paul Zappia, Miguel Olivas, Billy Franco, Carlos Mendoza, Koby Queenen, Michael Hamlin, Charlotte Upp, Bronwyn McAuliffe, krus Kudlac, Joan Vento=Hall, Alessandra Di Pierro, Rita Wagner, Joanne Mulrooney Moser, Lucy Rekuc, Julie Schwaben, Mia Mercado


Conductor: Joshua Carr

Musical Director: Piano: Leigh Anne Sutherlin

Keys 1: Scott Smith

Keys 2: Frank Giordano

Trumpet: Darrel Gardner

French Horn: Lisa Cherry

Reeds: Alan Yankee

Reeds: John Reilly

Violin: Cindy Brogan

Cello: Teresa DiPietro

Percussion: Brad Vaughn


Lighting Design: Gavan Wyrick

Sound Design: Christopher Reba

Projections Design: Nick Wass

Wig Design: Kathryn Scott

Make-up Design/Application: Denice Paxton, Timothy Macintosh

Scenic Art: Alex Compomizzi

Technical Director: Tom Brooks

Scenery by Theatricals Arts International Foundation

Costumes Provided by The Theatre Company, Upland

Production photos: Jennifer Yount Photography


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Previews: SUMMER KIDS CAMP 2023 at Palm Canyon Theatre

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