Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Historically, fairy tales were not so sweet and happily-ever-after as the Disney versions we have around today. Indeed, they may have been designed originally to be used as warnings for youngsters against certain perils; think woods, wolves, strangers offering gifts, as well as apparently dashing princes and step-mothers. Nevertheless, the story of Beauty and the Beast retains a bit more than its share of scary moments.
Clio Cast and Crew’s version, written by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, opened Thursday to an appreciative crowd. It sports a talented cast and a strong set of principal players. Getting right to the action, a nicely filmed account of how the Beast (Daniel Lopez) got that way precedes the curtain. By the way, Lopez is amazingly grotesque as the hulking beast complete with horns, a flowing mane and angry growl. His vocals are moving and very special.
Daughter of an eccentric inventor, the beauty is Belle (Annadelle Kimber); she is, for two reasons, considered something of an outcast in the village. First, she reads a lot (apparently not a popular pastime in this century) and second, she is NOT attracted to the brash and much pursued town bachelor, Gaston (Michael Poehner).
Poehner is a standout in this production with his bombastic style, big voice and absolute certainty that no woman can resist him. Kimber brings a sweetness tempered with a strong will to the role. Her voice is lovely, but her microphone lent a heavy bass or muffled timbre to most of her vocals Thursday making her often difficult to understand.
Most of the action takes place in the palace of the Beast. Finding her father (William Kircher) held captive there, she agrees to stay if he can go. We learn that the spell put upon the Beast extends to his household staff causing them each to be encased in object personas. Cogsworth (Shane McNicol), once major domo of the palace, is a garrulous clock; Lumiere (Harvey) the maître d is an outspoken candlestick; Mrs. Potts (Rose Adams) is an English teapot who pushes her teacart around with her son Chip (Evan Worden) serving as the teacup. Then there is Babette (Jessi Eldridge) the maid now evolving into a sneeze-inducing feather duster, and Madame Bouche (Nicole Dunckel), an opera singer with a big heart enclosed with her in a bigger chest of drawers.
All of these continue to serve the enchanted Beast and hope for the day when someone he can truly love comes along to love him in return. Only then will the spell be broken.
It will all come to a head when Gaston and his fainthearted sidekick LeFou (Jonathan Smith) decide to kill the Beast to “protect” the town. Smith brings a continued air of panic and pride to the role making him a perfect foil for the blustery Gaston.
We’ll not tell you how it all ends because it was too much fun to watch it unfold at Theatre 57 Thursday. We will say that this was an impressive performance. Co-directors Pat and Cheryl Blondin have managed to design an intriguing set and move the large cast around with fluid ease. Set changes were handled with swift precision.
Pre-recorded music is not my favorite accompaniment, but under the direction of Rafael McDaniel this cast handles their songs nicely and with very little hesitation.
In an imaginative show like this one, costumes take on an extra burden. Kudos to Dennis Swedorski and his crew for the amazingly believable garb of the “spellbound” and the Beast, as well as the rest of the townsfolk. And, finally, Jody Henderson’s choreography deserves mention especially for the wonderfully synchronized tin mug tavern dance.
All in all, this Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful recreation of the old fairy tale and even follows the Disney version as far as possible. It continues at Theatre 57, 2220 W Vienna Road, Clio, MI 48420 May 12, 13, 18, 19, 20 @ 7:30 pm and May 14 & 21 @ 2:30 pm. For tickets contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com