AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton
Choreographed by Matt West
Directed by Robert Jess Roth
The Academy of Music, Avenue of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Playing now through August 3, 2003
Kimmel Center Box Office: (215) 893-1999

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Disney's National Tour of "Beauty and the Beast" will close in Philadelphia at the Academy of Music after a two-week engagement, Sunday, August 3rd. Whatever disparaging remarks one has heard about Disney's tight fisted ways can be immediately dispelled by the amount of money that they have spent on production values for this tour. For this third national tour carries with it an impressive array of sets and costumes, specials effects and a small orchestra worthy of a Broadway production.

The brilliant original 1991 musical movie with music composed by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman has been adapted for the stage with a book by Linda Woolverton and extra songs by Menken with lyricist Tim Rice. The songs that have been added are necessary and delineate the characters' needs and desires while moving the plot along. In short, it's a very successful adaptation and hence garnered its long run on Broadway. The new songs include "No Matter What" (Maurice and Belle), "Me" (Gaston and Belle), "Home" (Belle), "How Long Must This Go On?" (Beast), "If I Can't Love Her" (Beast), "Change in Me" (Belle) and Maison Des Lunes" (Gaston, Lefou, Monsieur D'Arque). The music, of course, by Mr. Menken is tuneful, catchy, and many times in this beautiful score, simply glorious. The lyrics by Howard Ashman are, as in all his other works, exemplary.

This "tale as old as time" is the fairy-tale of a beautiful young girl (Belle) who is taken prisoner by an enchanted beast. She gradually sees beyond his hideous outer form and falls in love with him. Her love breaks the spell that had been cast on him and his castle by an enchantress and the Beast turns into a prince.

The cast is strong all around starting with Belle played by the lovely Jennifer Shrader who has a strong belt and a nice presence. The role of the Beast, a physically demanding job, is well portrayed by Roger Befeler. Because of his massive furry costume and painted facial mask he is limited to expressing himself with purely vocal and physical gestures and this he accomplishes. Marc G. Dalio is reminiscent of a young Howard Keel with his tall, muscular good looks and his splendid voice. If there's a man you'll just love to hate it's his Gaston. Rob Lorey is totally delightful as Lumiere, the candlestick, who is traditionally played as a Maurice Chevalier style roue; Andrew Boyer is appropriately prissy and quite appealing as Cogsworth, the clock, Monica M. Wemitt has classic timing as Madame de La Grande Bouche and an operatic voice to boot and Tracy Generalovich is adorable as Babette, the feather duster who never stops moving .

The costumes by Tony award-winning Ann Hould-Ward are huge creative confections. Especially clever are the servants' costumes of Lumiere (a candlestick), Cogsworth (a clock), Mrs. Potts (a teapot), Babette (a feather duster) and Madame de la Grande Bouche (a chest of drawers). Gaston also wears clothes that are subtly modeled to make his muscles appear even larger than they are. The elaborate sets by Stanley A. Meyer were truly fairy-tale concoctions, from Belle and her father's tiny rustic cottage to the enchanted halls of the Beast's lugubrious castle.

The only thing that did not appeal to me in this production was the use of the recorded cartoon sounds. Whenever the Beast is supposed to roar at someone, there is a recorded roaring sound that is very loud and sounds like a recorded roaring sound. Whenever Gaston punches Lefoue (and that is many times throughout the show) there is a recorded punching sound. Now lots of times it makes the little kids titter, but to me these are campy bits that rudely yank me out of the story. The same is true with the three Silly Girls who are directed to be way over the top. But these moments not withstanding, there is plenty of singing, dancing, and schmaltzy glitz to keep everyone entertained and walking away singing something from this lovely score.

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