Magic fills the stage at The Playhouse in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The ensemble performances, dancing and singing come alive with colors that perfectly match the marvelous costumes by Georgiann Regan, Travis Halsey and Amanda Fehlner as well as Jim Othuse’s imaginatively conceived sets. Director Kimberley Faith Hickman has done wonders to bring that forth. Forty-one performers inhabit this fairy tale territory with vitality, charm and polish.
This is legitimately called Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, given that it’s the first-ever musical version of the famed story. The songs were written for the 1991 film which was also a ground breaker; there had never been a full-length animated feature derived from 18th century French writer Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaymont’s La Belle et la Bête. The movie garnered two Oscars for Alan Menken’s music and Howard Ashman’s lyrics. The 1994, 13-year box office phenomenon also has six more songs, with additional lyrics by Tim Rice.
Certainly Linda Wolverton’s script has clever elements, including the kind of messages de Beaumont favored about what virtues may lie hidden within disturbing outward appearances. And about being an outsider within the community where intelligence and intellectual curiosity are mocked. Belle likes to read books. There’s also an amusing take on male superiority posturing, personified in the oafish Gaston.
The story and its developments in this production constantly flow with interest. And two of the songs have wonderful dimensions. “Be Our Guest” at the opening weekend’s Saturday was, justifiably, a show- stopper. The delightful music called forth equally delightful dancing and singing, and the sweet title song remains a classic. A friendly waltz “Human Again” and folk music-like “The Mob Song” also have appealing qualities. But the other 12, five reprised too, seem more generic in both melodies and words.
On Saturday, as Beauty, aka Belle, Leanne Hill Carlson sang superbly, while Tim Vallier certainly conveyed the youth of the Prince before he was transformed. Yet, he didn’t seem to have the Beast sufficiently defined. Steve Krambeck’s take on the walking, talking candelabra Lumière glowed with charm and personality while Dawn Buller-Kirke sang exceptionally well as the tea-Mrs. Potts.
Jim Boggess’ nine-member orchestra sounded somewhat frail during the overture and at a few other times, but the excellent singing certainly compensated.
While well-produced, the program book characteristically gives readers no information about the creators of this show. Composer Alan Menken has won eight Academy Awards, 11 Grammys and a Tony and is best known for scores in Walt Disney Animation Studios productions such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Pocahontas. He also wrote music for Little Shop of Horrors, Newsies, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Sister Act. http://www.alanmenken.com/m/
Frequent collaborator Ashman worked with Menken on The Little Mermaid, The Little Shop of Horrors and Aladdin. http://howardashman.com/
England’s Tim Rice is an Academy Award Golden Globe, Tony and Grammy-winning lyricist best known for his collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Rice has also worked with Elton John in The Lion King and Aida and was knighted by Elizabeth II in 1994. http://timrice.co.uk/
Scriptwriter American Linda Woolverton became the first woman to write an animated feature for Disney with Beauty and the Beast and wrote The Lion King’s screenplay. Most recently she’s worked on the films Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Woolverton.
As for the source of this story, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont was born in 1711 and started to write in her late 30s adapting La Belle et la Bête from Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villebeuve’s original. De Beaumont published about 70 volumes and became famous for instructional handbooks for parents and educators. She was one of the first to make her folk tales educational and include a moral. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne-Marie_Leprince_de_Beaumont)
In this production we have yet another example of an amazing amount of our town’s non-professional talent looking and sounding professional.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast unfolds through June 25, Hawks Mainstage Theatre, Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Weds.-Sat.: 7:30 p.m., Sat. June 17, 24: 2 p.m., Sun. : 2 p.m.
Tickets $20-$42. omahaplayhouse.com