Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Book by Linda Woolverton, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Performed by Karen Coughlin, Markus Nance et al
Directed by Susan Ferley
Grand Theatre, London
November 21 to December 30, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Tale as Old as Time Told Anew

This marks the eighth time I’ve seen the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast live on stage – and I’ve probably watched the cartoon video countless times. I know pieces of the script by heart. But the Grand’s artistic director Susan Ferley has made the latest production seem fresh and new. With an elaborate set and imaginative costumes, this is the Grand’s best Christmas musical in recent years.

When the Prince (Markus Nance) scorns an old beggar woman, she casts a spell on him and he becomes a hideous beast, while all the servants in his castle slowly morph into things. To undo the spell, he must make a woman fall in love with him. In the meantime, Belle (Karen Coughlin) and her father, the eccentric inventor Maurice (William Vickers) are not accepted by the townspeople in their little French village. Gaston, (Mark Harapiak) the pub owner with an enormous ego, wants to marry Belle, but she can’t tolerate him or his sidekick Lefou (Sal Scozzari). Belle ends up a prisoner in the Beast’s castle, and of course, they eventually fall in love, with help from an assortment of household items.

Karen Coughlin as Belle just keeps getting better and better. She will be remembered as the melodramatic Cindy in Suds at Hiawatha’s Carousel Playhouse. Last year she played Belle at Huron Country Playhouse, and this summer she had the title role in A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. Coughlin is blessed with a beautiful voice and this time around she has put more feeling into every song. She plays Belle with genuine human spirit and not as a cartoon character. It is worth the ticket price just to hear Coughlin sing.

Similarly Markus Nance’s rendition of “If I Can’t Love Her” brings an emotional close to the first act. Nance was Mikado in last summer’s Gilbert & Sullivan at Huron Country Playhouse. His rich voice brings poignancy to the Beast’s songs.

Patrick R. Brown as Cogsworth and Neil Foster as Lumiere are a good team, demonstrating their “rapier wit”, as Lumiere says. Brown garners many laughs as the tightly wound clock, and Foster plays the candelabra as if he were Maurice Chevalier.

Eleven-year-old Joshua Rosedale as Chip the Cup is a real audience favourite. Gabrielle Jones as Mrs. Potts, Marcia Tratt as the Wardrobe, and Sarah Slywchuck as Babette, the feather duster are all well cast. Scozzari’s Lefou provides the comedy whenever he’s on stage.

Gino Berti’s choreography is outstanding with an excellent cast of dancing kitchen utensils, and napkins doing the can-can. In particular, brothers Jason and Julius Sermonia deserve special mention for their perfect moves and high energy.

Credit goes to John Dinning for the amazing set. Pieces come from all directions – the castle revolves around to show exterior and interior, as well as a variety of rooms. Buildings and the forest fly in from above, and furniture comes on a moving treadmill from both left and right. It seems like every scene is a different combination and the same arrangements are seldom repeated.

Costume designer Judith Bowden shows great originality and imagination with the apparel. Most productions of Beauty and the Beast simply follow the Disney cartoon, but Bowden has made it her own. Watching the evolution of the castle’s inhabitants is very entertaining.

Musical Director Andrew Petrasiunas and his orchestra fill the theatre with a rich, beautiful sound, giving the impression there are more than just nine people in the pit.

By bringing together a very artistic team, Director Susan Ferley has created a wonderful Christmas gift. I was going to suggest that you give your kids or grandkids tickets, but no, you don’t necessarily need kids to enjoy this fairy tale – Go yourself, there’s something for everyone.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast continues at the Grand Theatre in London until December 30. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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