It’s difficult to imagine a more captivating group of characters than those in “Disney’s Beauty And The Beast,” playing through Jan. 12 at San Diego Civic Theatre.
Who wouldn’t love a beautiful heroine who’s never seen without a book in her hand? (This librarian especially appreciates that.) Or a singing teapot, a candelabra with a French accent, a dancing clock?
Or Gaston (Tim Rogan), the egotistical Li’l Abner look-alike, all brawn and no brain, who thinks all he has to do to marry beautiful bookworm Belle (Hilary Maiberger) is will it so.
Then there’s the spoiled brat prince (Darick Pead), turned into a hairy beast by an old beggar woman after he insults and turns her away when she asks shelter for the night. He’s banished to his castle with his servants (who have been turned into the household equipment listed above), and none of them will be human again until the beast learns to love.
Based on the 1991 film – one of Disney’s best efforts – the 1994 stage version includes several new songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice and ran for 13 years on Broadway. It was nominated for nine Tonys (winning one).
This touring version offers Stanley A. Meyers’ terrific set, which seems – like the characters – to be in constant motion, with flies dropping, set pieces rolling or being moved by gray-costumed critters that might be mice or maybe gargoyles.
Belle, you may remember, lives with her sweet but slightly dotty inventor father Maurice (Paul Crane) in a little country town where it seems that nobody ever reads. Belle thinks there must be more for her out there somewhere.
When Maurice rides off to an inventors’ fair on his latest invention – a bike that chops wood while you pedal – he gets lost, is chased by puppeteer Basil Twist’s fabulous wolf puppets and ends up a prisoner in the beast’s castle, handily setting up the rest of the story.
This show has no voice deficiencies – all the principals are excellent singing actors – but I’d single out two for special commendation. Rogan’s rich baritone voice as big as all outdoors is a particularly good match for the hulking character that is Gaston. And Nazari-Robati’s French-inflected Lumiere is a charmer who steals nearly every scene he’s in.
A shout-out to Jordan Aragon as well, for his terrifically acrobatic turn as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou.
Pead’s Beast does more roaring than singing until late in the second act, but when he does, the voice is worth hearing.
Choreography (by Matt West) is another plus here, and there is a great deal of it. One rather intricate drinking dance (with beer steins) comes especially to mind.
Bravo to music director Kevin Francis Finn and his 11-member orchestral forces, who provide background without overwhelming the singers.
Though this is a fairy tale, I might hesitate to take little ones to this show on the grounds of length. At two and a half hours, it’s a bit much ... though the little ones on opening night didn’t seem to be complaining.
Also, perhaps because it is a French fairy tale, there is some emphasis on can-can dancing, wiggling of the feminine butt and other somewhat crude jokes.
But it’s a great show and the crowd loved it. Frankly, so did I.
“Disney’s Beauty And The Beast” plays through Sunday, Jan. 12, at San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd and B streets, downtown.
Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.