The Muny's Beauty and the Beast is an Enchanted and Epic Fairytale

By: Jun. 24, 2023
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The Muny and director John Tartaglia have staged an enchanted and epic tale as old as time for the second show of the Muny’s 105th season. This production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is like no other production you’ve experienced before. The opulent scenic design, elegant set decoration, stunning costumes, intricate choreography, magical orchestrations, and complex vocal arrangements are produced on the grandest of scale crafting a multi-layered technical theatre experience to enhance the exceptional performances of a richly talented cast. Tartaglia’s vision and leadership allowed his actors and creative teams to produce a luxurious show that is a visual, auditory and emotional indulgence.

The entire cast, led by Ashley Blanchet (Belle) and Ben Crawford (Beast), masterfully sing the Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice score with melodious simplicity. Blanchet and Crawford have exceptional chemistry and their growing love for one another feels palpable when Belle is nursing The Beast’s injuries as they sing “Something There.” Blanchet’s splendid voice and take on “A Change in Me” is a show stopping moment that few other actresses have delivered in other productions of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. All the solid vocal performances are the product of the ambitious vocal arrangements and orchestrations of Music Director Ben Whiteley. He gives this talented cast the opportunity to allow their voices to soar. Nowhere is his brilliant work more apparent than in his arrangement for the large ensemble on the simple “Human Again.” He has turned what is normally an undemanding song sung by five or six of the featured cast members into an ensemble piece that really becomes a special moment in the Second Act. Tartaglia, Whiteley, choreographer Patrick O’Neil, and costume designer Robin McGee collaborate on the large numbers in the show to give the audience exactly what the came for; a splashy and elaborate “Be Our Guest,” an entertainingly brash “Gaston,” and a charmingly melodic opening number with “Belle.”

Blanchet and Crawford’s performances are supported by a cast of actors whose physical characterizations allow them to inhabit the inanimate alterations of their personalities. Ann Harada (Mrs. Potts), Kelvin Moon Loh (Lumiere), Eric Jordan Young (Cogsworth), and Holly Ann Butler (Babette) all disappear into the teapot, candelabra, clock and feather-duster they’ve been cursed to become. Harada channels her inner Angela Lansbury to deliver a sentimental take on “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.” Her warbly warm vocal coupled with Belle’s extravagant golden gown create a goosebump inducing and tear producing moment. The dashing and muscular Clayborne Elder (Gaston) is superb as the cheekily arrogant Gaston. His rich baritone is lush and resonant. Tommy Bracco (LeFou) is goofily silly. He displays an adept ability at physical comedy executing pratfalls that leave the audience laughing.

All the technical theatre aspects of this production are dazzling. Ann Beyersdorfer’s scenic design and set decoration is lavish. Every detail is intentional from the castle interior, built on a grand scale, down to the small touches like luxuriant lilacs cascading from the candelabras on The Beast’s dining room table. Beyersdorfer’s set is supported by Greg Emetaz’s video production that adds layered depth to the set pieces. His video projections, especially the castle interiors create a feeling of palatial stateliness. Robin McGee’s costumes are rich, elegant and dazzling. In addition to the sumptuous gowns she designed for Belle, her costume pieces for the castle servants turning into a teapot, clock, candelabra, wardrobe and feather duster are executed with meticulous attention to detail.

This remarkable and extravagant production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST has many surprises that will not be revealed in this review to avoid spoiling some truly amazing elements of this show. The vast Muny stage has given the director (Tartaglia) an opportunity to construct a once-in-a-lifetime production. It is built on a grand scale with a magnitude that few theatrical productions can achieve. Suffice it to say that this production is executed flawlessly. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST plays The Muny in Forest Park though June 30th. 


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