Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Music by Alan Menkin and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton
Directed by Alex Mustakas
Choreographed by Gino Berti
Musical direction by John Karr
Performed by Karen Coughlin, David Ludwig, et al
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
May 30 to July 2, 2005
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Dancers Steal the Stage in Beauty and the Beast

The show-stopping number “Be Our Guest!” brought to the stage the most hospitable group of silverware, kitchen utensils and dinner napkins ever seen in dancing shoes. The chorus of high-kicking, energetic young dancers is certainly the highlight of Huron County Playhouse’s Beauty and the Beast. The choreography by Gino Berti lives up to the Toronto stage version that ran at the Princess of Wales theatre in the mid-90’s.

The show has remained true to Disney’s animated version — which is the only cartoon ever nominated for an best-picture Oscar, with its catchy show tunes, quirky characters and memorable plot line. The beautiful Belle is an outcast in her small village in France, and is certainly not interested in the boorish Gaston who proposes to her. Belle’s father is an inventor of strange contraptions; therefore he and his bookish daughter are seen as very odd. Belle becomes trapped in an enchanted castle where all the people have been transformed into everyday things – the servants Lumiere and Cogsworth have become a candelabra and clock respectively, while the maid is a feather duster, the housekeeper is a teapot, and her son, Chip, is a cup. Belle learns that the prince who owns the castle is under a spell and has been turned into a hideous beast. Only true love will end the curse.

In addition to the excellent dancing, the costumes and sets are first rate. The clock, candelabra, teapot and bureau costumes are fascinating to watch as the evil spell progresses and the humans continue to be transformed into household objects. Colourful drops change the scenes and the sets and props show great imagination

Of the cast, most notable are Patrick R. Brown as Cogsworth the clock, Jay Davis as Gaston, and Michael Donald as Lefou. Donald does great slapstick with many falls and tumbles. Donna Fletcher, a favourite at HCP (Anna in The King & I, among many others) was excellent as Mrs. Potts, and gave a beautiful rendition of the title song. The audience sees only the face of delightful young actor Tristan Rae as Chip the cup: he spends most of the show riding around inside a tea wagon, but his smile is infectious. Another HCP favourite, Keith Savage plays Lumiere, who is constantly chasing Babette, the French maid who has been transformed into a feather duster, played perfectly by Diana Coatsworth. Karen K. Edissi is delightful as Madame de la Grande Bouche, the opera-singing chest of drawers.

Credit must also be given to Sandy Winsby, who has very capably stepped in the role of Maurice, after the tragic death of veteran actor Terry Doyle. Sadly, Doyle collapsed on stage after singing his featured number, in front of full house on opening night. Doyle was reprising the role of Maurice after having it in the Toronto production ten years ago.

Both the leads, Karen Coughlin as Belle and David Ludwig as the Beast, have wonderful singing voices, and carry their many songs very well. Coughlin will be familiar for her role as Cindy in Suds this spring at Sarnia’s Hiawatha racetrack. Suds is a parody of a melodramatic soap opera, and unfortunately, Coughlin plays Belle the same way, making her seem somewhat one-dimensional. Ludwig was outstanding last summer as Don Quixote in Man of LaMancha, but isn’t been able to create the same compassion for the Beast.

Nonetheless, the great music, fantastic dancing, delightful set and enthralling costumes make it an amazing family outing. The kids will love it and there’s plenty to keep adults entertained, as well.

Beauty and the Beast continues with eight shows a week until July 2 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000 or Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463.


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