Sakes alive, well I’ll be blessed! 3-D Theatricals—Southern California’s Award-winning production company in Fullerton and Redondo Beach, California, enthusiastically celebrates the Valentines season with an enduring and much-loved “Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…” with their sparkling new production of Disney’s “Beauty And The Beast”! Based on the classic story by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot-de-Villeneuve and Disney’s hit 1991 film, this musical restaging features music by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, while the book is by Linda Woolverton who adapted her own screenplay; yet the stage version expands on that original animated movie with more songs, and by increasing the roles of certain familiar characters. A truly eye-popping spectacle if ever there was one, few musicals in recent memory compare to this sumptuous love story which garnered nominations for both Oscars and Tony Awards; now, staying true to this substantial legacy, 3-D’s latest production most emphatically doesn’t disappoint!
Directed by 3-D Theatricals’ own T.J Dawson with Assistant Director, Ryan Ruge, the choreography is by Billy Sprague Jr. On opening night, Dawson welcomed audiences, confiding that this latest endeavor is, admittedly, a potential ‘beast’ of a production with many “moving parts’ and disparate elements to contend with all at once; in spite of that they all make everything look so effortless, keeping the proceedings flowing smoothly—swiftly even. The Director also pointed out that the show boasts a full 18 piece orchestra “and that’s rare even for Broadway these days,” he proudly noted, and every instrument (under the expert leadership of Julie Lamoureux) is brilliantly put into the service of this remarkable score. If the movie may have been a little thread-bare musically in places, rest assured that all of the additional songs written expressly for this stage version are definite improvements on the original film. In fact, few tunes featured in a Disney’s large and auspicious catalog are as clever, funny, stirring, or touch the human condition better than those heard here! While the first act acquaints us with all the players and sets up the situation, it’s after intermission that we’re really drawn in, much to the credit of Dawson and his cast. By then, we sincerely care about these characters and the story they’re telling—and the lavish romantic ending actually works much better on stage than in any cartoon. Then again, among the more memorable aspects of this show are the absolutely incredible technical contributions that make it all come alive—and just as significantly, have us believing it all! These include prodigious sets, innovative costumes, lively light-projections, and plenty of pyrotechnics. For these reasons, special (and each superbly warranted) kudos go out to Mela Hoyt-Heydon for her supremely imaginative costume designs, which are complemented fully by Denice Paxton’s vibrant and often otherworldly Make-up designs, while Peter Herman’s amazing wigs dramatically ‘top’ each character off flawlessly. Sets and props come courtesy of Gateway Productions and astute Disney fans may even find that they reference a few notable Disney theme-park attractions here and there (quite suitable given the theater’s close proximity to “Disneyland”!)
An intriguing animated/live action prologue takes us to a castle during a snow storm, relating how a spoiled young prince once cruelly turned away an old beggar woman who was actually a sorceress in disguise. For his selfish and unkind ways—and for failing to understand that “real beauty is found within”–he was transmogrified into a horrible-looking monster until he could find someone who would love him despite his new revolting visage, and whom he could love in return. Subsequently, we are introduced to “Belle” (“It’s no wonder that her name means ‘Beauty’,” someone sings of this unusual young lass; “Her looks have got no parallel!”) A restless dreamer longing to escape from the confines of her small bucolic French village (“There must be more than this provincial life!” she sings) not to mention her boorish bully of a would-be Suitor, the opportunity arises suddenly through a brave act of selflessness to save her father which leads her to the bewitched palace (and its inhabitants, who are all similarly under a magic spell that has metamorphosed them into living inanimate objects.) Soon she realizes that only she can free them, but before she does, Belle must contend with the château’s most ‘beastly’ resident. Before the final curtain rings down, audiences are treated to an unabashedly beautiful and charming theatrical experience involving leitmotifs such as courage, compassion and the transformational power of true love.
The ensemble’s initial ‘big’ group undertaking, “Belle” efficaciously sets the scene while presenting the girl around whom this adventure plays out. “Gaston’s” titular ode is also an Act One highlight, starting out as a lusty tavern descant before culminating into a dexterous ‘hambone’ inspired hand-gallop executed by the company with the aid of some Beer Steins. At still another point, Sprague even gets a pack of wolves to dance! Later, “Human Again”—a composition cut from the movie then reinstated for Broadway proves to be a buoyant little addition that has the cursed dwelling’s residents daring to dream what life will be like once they’re restored to their proper ‘corporeal’ forms, as they intone “When we’re knick-knacks and what-nots no more!” Plus, it gives Sprague and his talented coterie the first-class chance to incorporate several touches of classical ballet into the proceeding to great results! Moreover, the gastronomic “Folies Bergere” number “Be Our Guest” ranks as a bona fide show-stopper–complete with fireworks (literally) at its conclusion. It’s also a great occasion for the dancers to really show off some near-astounding acrobatic and athletic moves including some terrific Tour-Jetȇs, executed in tandem by a duo of Salt and Pepper shakers, a kick-line of gold-tuxedo clad flat-wear, followed by still another comprised of a battalion of chorines dressed as over-sized pink dishes and plates!
As “Belle”, Afton Quast gives us a spunky, friendly girl reminiscent of a young Judy Garland circa her “Wizard Of Oz” days. Gifted with a strong and passionate voice, Ms. Quast accomplishes a genuine power-house performance.
In the second act, her declaration “A Change In Me” is convincing and deeply touching, delivered simply (and hence most potently) as she explains to her father her growing feelings for the one she once looked on with abhorrence and dread: “Now I love the world I see,” she describes, “No change of heart–a change in me!” Sharing both the stage and the title with her is Alexander Mendoza as “The Beast”. In many ways the original “Affluenza Teen”, Mendoza’s young monarch-turned-monster ultimately has one of the most challenging roles in the entire piece given that he must perform under heavy makeup and prosthetic appliances. This makes any kind of subtle emotive expression or facial gesture difficult to say the least. Happily, he also has an awesome operatic voice which he deftly demonstrates throughout, making any costume limitations seem nominal in comparison. Both of his lamentations– “How Long Must This Go On?” and “If I Can’t Love Her” are certainly worth waiting for, and each is magnificently conveyed, readily gaining him our empathy and admiration: “No spirit could win me; no hope left within me” he rails; “Hope I could have loved her and that she’d set me free…if I can’t love her, let the world be done with me!” By the time Act Two rolls around however, our “Beast” is a reformed man (or at least he’s trying to be) which makes his big titular interlude with Quast so down-right unforgettable. Joining them, Cameron Bond establishes that he could also give the likes of “Jafar” or “Captain Hook” completion for the perfect Disney ‘bad guy’, as the arrogant “Gaston”! Himself possessing a rich, baritone voice, Bond paints this uber-masculine legend-in-his-own-ego as the quintessential posing, perennially preening, and positively primeval pretty-boi. It’s often tough to jump into a role audiences love to hate, but Bond looks like he’s having barrels of fun doing it! Gaston’s hymn to himself, appropriately called “Me”, in which he informs Belle of his intention to have her for his wife (regardless of how she feels about it) is an audience favorite early on: “All’s well that ends with ME!” he exults. Then, as the focus of the big number in praise of him, he doesn’t just shine in the spot-light, he practically gives off sparks!
Not to be missed either is Robert Ramirez as “Lefou”, Gaston’s sidekick, cohort, punching bag and all-around ‘toady’ who doesn’t miss a misstep or a prat fall. Handily earning all of his applause (–and there’s plenty of it for him) he employs loads of slap-stick humor and some very impressive dance and acrobatic moves (his very best occur when he has a run-in with a ‘living’ rug at the castle!) Perhaps more than the others, Ramirez manages to catch the comic essence of his character effectively ‘fleshing him out” from the big-screen to the So Cal stage. Joey D’Auria, who returns to the Plummer Auditorium stage after last summer’s equally likeable turn as “Professor Porter” in 3-D Theatricals’ “Tarzan”, also does a laudable job here as the persnickety “Cogsworth”, where he’s featured frequently opposite Dennis Kyle as the rakish Majordomo, “Lumiere”. Kyle successfully portrays this Candelabra-Casanova as more of a Gallic ‘Rudy Valley’ with a bit of ‘Jimmy Durante’ thrown in, and he particularly soars when basically leading the large-chorus exploits like “Human Again”, along with assuming the position of a ‘wick-witted’ Master of Ceremonies during “Be Our Guest”. Also fresh off his triumph as the sepulchral butler “Lurch” in Halloween’s “The Addams Family”, Dustin Ceithamer returns—this time as a fittingly ‘murky man for a murky plan’, “Monsieur D’Arque”.
The proprietor of the local Lunatic Asylum with whom Gaston schemes to have Belle’s father locked away (“We get the daughter through her dad—you just pronounce the old boy mad—and ‘whoosh’ he’s slammed up in your pad!” Gaston instructs) Ceithamer’s part in the trio with Bond and Ramirez, “Maison Des Lunes” is a dark but nifty “patter” style outing, that gives us a taste of his remarkable voice even as he towers over his two co-conspirators. Meanwhile, Tracy Lore too, makes her presence wonderfully felt as the motherly “Mrs. Potts” (–and yes, she furnishes an elegant rendition of the lilting main theme!) Young Bradley Bundlie provides his share of smiles as well, irrespective of some decidedly tricky costuming as her “son” “Chip”. Bree Murphy is also an unbeatable standout in a role somewhat expanded from its appearance on the big screen, as “Madame De La Grande Boucher”—an erstwhile Opera Diva, now a Wardrobe. Murphy gets all the best laugh lines, which she more than makes the most of, easily winning her own share of both big laughs and much-merited applause.
Certain as the sun rising in the East, audiences of all ages are sure to delight in 3-D Theatricals’ latest offering! After ‘previewing’ on Friday, February 5th, 2016, this “Beauty” of a show officially opened on Saturday, February 6th where it will run through Sunday, February 21st, 2016 at the Fullerton’s historic “Plummer Auditorium” located at: 201 E. Chapman Avenue, in Fullerton, California. Show-times are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm ; additional performances are scheduled for Thursday evening, February 18th at 8:00 pm and an additional matinée on Saturday afternoon, February 20th at 2:00 pm. Afterward, on Friday, February 26th 2016, the show moves to “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center”, located at 1935 E. Manhattan Blvd. in Redondo Beach California for an additional four performances. Show-times for this engagement are Friday and Saturday evening at 8:00 pm, with matinees on Saturday, February 27th and Sunday February 28th at 2:00 pm. Tickets for both engagements may be obtained by calling (714) 589-2770 x 1, 11:00 am-5:00 pm Monday thru Friday, Saturdays from 12:00 pm until 4:00 pm; on-line by logging onto www.3dtshows.com or at the “Plummer Auditorium” or “Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” Theater Box Offices two hours prior to show-times. (Special Group and Student discounts are also available.)
Production Stills By Isaac James Creative (www.IsaacJamesCreative.com) Courtesy Of Michael Sterling & Associates (www.msapr.net) and “3-D Theatricals”; Special Thanks To Michael Sterling, T.J. Dawson, Daniel Dawson, Gretchen Dawson, Billy Sprague Jr., Ryan Ruge, And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” “Beauty And The Beast” For Making This Story Possible.