Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by The Canadian College of Performing Arts April 21-29, 2017. A review.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by The Canadian College of Performing Arts April 21-29, 2017. A review.

The kidverse is buzzing this spring with news of the live remake of the 1991 cartoon film Beauty and the Beast—it’s an auspicious moment for the Canadian College of Performing Arts to stage the 1994 musical version (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Asman and Tim Rice, book by Linda Woolverton). Originally based on the French eighteenth century fairy tale, la Belle et la Bête, this timeless love story (some scholars date its genesis to over 4000 years ago) features a small ordinary town, a heroine who prefers books over dresses, a conceited suitor and an arrogant prince and his enchanted castle.  The cartoon version upon which the musical is based contains many a wink and nod to all things French—the candlestick is Lumiere (light), Babette the duster is attired as a French maid, Madame de la Grande Bouche (the armoire) is a trained opera singer (big mouth); my personal favourite though has to be Monsieur D’Arque (Dark) the nefarious proprietor of the insane asylum.  The enchanted household objects—Cogsworth the clock, Mrs Potts, Chip, and the afore-mentioned Lumiere, Babette and Madame de la Grande Bouche have entered into the common visual lexicon.

Director and choreographer Darold Roles had fifty-six first and second year students to draw from—the casts alternate performances during the eight show run. In a wonderful example of the close collaboration necessary to stage of musical of this magnitude, set designer R.J. Peters incorporates the magnificent drops (designed by Brian Ball) used in Vancouver’s Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) production from summer 2016.  Scenic painters Corrie Peters and Caitlenn Bull insured the perfect fit between the borrowed and new elements, while Jarrod Crockett’s projections, particularly the castle’s roaring fire and enchanted rose, bring everything to life.  Lighting advisor Adam Wilkinson is particularly effective at creating the moody danger of the forest. Shannon Carmichael once again works her costume magic, aided by loans from TUTS for some of the major pieces. Music director Brad L’Écuyer has assembled a talented troupe of veteran local musicians, noticeable for their cohesion from the first swelling notes of the overture.

Beauty and the Beast
opens with a prologue, featuring some clever shadow puppetry, recounting the backstory of the prince who is turned into a beast by an enchantress. The main elements established, the audience is then whisked away to a bustling village and introduced to Belle (Sidney Cummings, alternate Megan Littlejohn) an independent young woman who can’t wait to leave, Gaston (Emil Mogensen) her lout of a suitor and his side-kick Lefou (Colin Milne alternate Maddie Morrison) and the flamboyant Silly Girls. Throughout the production, the work of the ensemble is notable—with each individual character clearly delineated, making it a pleasure to watch the bustle and hustle, whether in the village or, later, within the castle walls.

The transition between the world of the village and the enchanted castle is accomplished by introducing Belle’s father Maurice (Ben Alto-Bond alternate Chris Perrins), an eccentric inventor with a marvellously engineered device he is showing at the county fair. On his journey to the next town, he is beset upon by wolves in the forest and escapes to the castle where a cast of animate objects astonish him. The Beast (Vinny Keats moves with lithe and powerfully controlled grace) furious at the intrusion, imprisons him.

Back in the village, Belle discovers Lefou with her father’s scarf and sets off to find him, bartering with the Beast to replace him at the castle.

While ultimately the audience knows the story will end happily, there are many battles, internal and external–between village and castle, Belle and Beast, desire for independence and to be loved for oneself—before this occurs. Belle and the Beast are both strong-willed individuals, the audience watches their budding romance with great anticipation as they display powerful acts of self-sacrifice.

Vocal moments of note include Sidney Cummings beautiful soprano portraying all of Belle’s assured amusement and wonder at life (Belle), Vinny Keats emotionally charged anguish (If I Can’t Love Her), Rae Paxton’s warm expressive tones as Mrs. Potts (Home, Beauty and the Beast), the enthusiasm of Human Again and Be Our Guest and the disturbing Maison des Lunes (Emily Rittameer alternate Darian Ngai as Monsieur D’Arque).

Emil Mogensen plays the dastardly villain Gaston to the hilt, while Willie Knauff hints at famous French chansonnier Charles Trenet in his turn as Lumiere.  Both The Mob Song and The Battle display great skill in choreography and fight technique.

Beauty and the Beast is an epic romance, captivating and timeless. As the number of enchanted small children at the opening matinée can attest, it retains its power to sustain attention. Congratulations to the Canadian College of Performing Arts for the incredible amount of work at bringing this “tale as old as time” to life for Victoria audiences.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
(music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, book by Linda Woolverton)
The Canadian College of Performing Arts
April 21-29 2017 at the McPherson Playhouse
Tickets: $52.50 (student rush tickets available at the box office the day of the show)
Running time (with intermission) 2 hours and 35 minutes

Director/Choreographer Darold Roles
Music Director Brad L’Écuyer
Assistant Director Sarah Carlé
Costumes Shannon Carmichael
Production Manager R.J. Peters
Set Designer R.J. Peters
Drop Design Brian Ball
Lighting Advisor Adam Wilkinson
Production Stage Manager Jackie Adamthwaite
Dialect Coach Dr. Iris McGregor Bannerman
Projection/Sound Designer Jarod Crockett
Scenic Painters Corrie Peters & Caitlenn Bull
Assistant Stage Managers Victoria Stolting & Ainsley Harrington
Beauty and the Beast Waltz Choreoography Amalia Schelhorn
Tango Choreography Amy Martin
Dance Captains Raissa Souto & Kristina Roberts
Fight Captain Darian Ngai
Props Miranda Sheepwash & Victoria Stolting

Conductor/Keyboard Brad L’Écuyer
Violin-Kathryn Wiebe, Heather Boulding (alt)
Cello-Lesley Atherton, Larry Skaggs (alt)
Flute/Piccolo-Lana Enns
Oboe/English Horn/Clarinet-Rainer Roth
French Horn-Sam McNally
Percussion-Jon Eng

Disclaimer: I attended Beauty and the Beast as a guest of the Canadian College of Performing Arts

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