A fairy tale about a bright and beautiful young woman who transforms a beast into a prince with love and understanding hardly sounds like holiday fare.
But if Scrooge’s metamorphosis from miserable miser to generous and genial businessman is the standard, then almost any tale about transformation — as long as it features a dazzling set and opulent costumes — will do in December.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” being performed this month at the Bangor Opera House by the Penobscot Theatre Company, is gorgeous to behold.
The costumes and set, along with the actors’ delightful performances, could coax holiday joy out of any and every Grinch in the audience.
The French fairy tale about the bewitched beast who can be returned to his princely form only by true love is, to borrow a line from the musical’s title song, a tale as old as time. At least as old as 1740, when it was first published.
Walt Disney Studios’ animated version of “Beauty and the Beast,” was released in 1991, two years after “The Little Mermaid” was a box office success. In 1994, the live-action musical, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, opened on Broadway at the Palace Theatre. It ran for 13 years.
PTC’s director Ethan Paulini deftly moves the cast of 21 actors and actresses around and on the multi-level set. He gets equally fine performances from the professionals as the amateurs.
The first act dragged a bit during Saturday’s opening performance but the fast pacing in the second act made up for it. Paulini’s vision is executed beautifully by the cast, the designers and everyone working behind the scenes.
In Disney’s version of “Beauty and the Beast,” the inanimate objects are much more interesting and funnier than the humans. The enchanted clock, candelabra, chest of drawers, teapot and chipped cup are written to steal the show and the actors playing them do just that.
Ben Layman as Cogsworth, the clock, and Dominick Varney as Lumiere, the candelabra, are the Abbott and Costello comedy team of the show. They are hysterical and their timing is perfect. Brianne Beck as Babette, a flighty and flirty feather duster, and Elena DeSiervo Burns as Madame De La Grande Bouche, an opera-sing chest of drawers, are delightfully dishy in their critiques of the unfolding fairy tale.
As an enchanted teapot, Mrs. Potts, played by Annie Leonardi-Merchant, and her son Chip, played by Cuthbert “Cuddy” Steadman, give wonderfully warm performances and sprinkle some heartfelt moments over the comedy of the other household objects.
The script is not as generous to the humans in the show but the actors give compelling performances. Belle (Jazmin Gorsline) is sweet without being saccharine, her suitor Gaston (Ira Kramer) is swarmy without being creepy and the Beast (Cory Osborne) is a tad scary until he sings the lament “If I Can’t Love Her.” Osborne’s clear and smooth baritone melts even the hardest of hearts.
The true stars of this production are the costumes, rented from Maine State Music in Brunswick. The costumes worn by the actors playing household items are colorful, clever and surprising. The scenic design by sister-team Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay is terrific. The castle is imposing but welcoming, thanks in part to Scout Hough’s lighting design.
The only sour notes opening night came from the nine-member orchestra. Just about everything that could go wrong in the pit at the front of the stage did go wrong, from a broken instrument to keeping pace with the singers to off-key notes. The musicians sounded like they needed a lot more practice time.
Usually, talking during shows is annoying and aggravating. But on Saturday night, a group of girls proved the exception to the rule. They knew all the lyrics and sang along. A couple of times they spoke the end of a line before a character did.
They obviously were enchanted by the show and the performances. Their enthusiasm was infectious and utterly charming, and only enhanced the viewing of this performance.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” will be performed through Dec. 30. For tickets, call 942-3333 or visit penobscotheatre.org.
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