Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Media Theater): An enchanted musical

The company of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Photo credit Alex Medvick
The company of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Photo credit Alex Medvick

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is set in a countryside town near a forest. The musical is based on Linda Woolverton’s screenplay for Disney, which focuses on the ill-fated beast and his servants’ negligence.

In Media Theater’s production of the musical (lyrics and music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, along with new songs by Menken and Tim Rice), the prologue is narrated by a godly voice. An enchantress turns a prince into a beast because he rejects her gift of a rose. Through the different set changes and the songs sung by the cast, we reevaluate the denial of a rose.

In a town somewhere far away from the enchanted castle is Belle (Alanna J. Smith). Belle and the Beast (Jarret Jay Yoder) coexist and move us across a sphere of magic and mystery. Belle finds herself a prisoner, but is treated like a guest in the castle. It is at the enchanted castle where her attitude changes. She is faced with a cold animalized person, and the connection to the lively townsfolk is a mirroring of beastly appearances.

Babette and Lumiere, played by Julianna Babb and JP Dunphy, are only half-human (one was part broom, the other part candlestick). But they notice the beauty in Belle. Cogsworth, played by Kelly Briggs, mentions that they are slowly losing their minds because of the curse. The placement of characters opposed to one another in the musical are separated by distance. The distance between human and beast is ambiguous.

The androgynous quality of the enchantress in Media Theater’s production reveals another perspective on beauty. When Jarret Jay Yoder puts on a new hairy appearance he is considered a beast. They juxtaposed a life worth living and a given talent wasted away for one reason or another. For example, Gaston is a champion hunter that wears the mask of person of the year, but Belle sees right through him. Belle and Gaston, played by Alanna J. Smith and Bob Stineman, exhibit conflicting thoughts. There is a truth to fairy tales and I was obsessed by Belles naiveté. It seemed to me that the invention made by Belle’s father Maurice (Nicholas Saverine foreshadowed an unstoppable artificial force. This invention on stage resembled a guillotine and popped out from the old-fashioned curtain representing the boring town. I felt that this prop in its own way was both a beautiful piece of machinery and a manifestation of societal decay.

Julianna Babb as Babette and JP Dunphy as Lumiere. Credit_ Alex Medvick
Julianna Babb as Babette and JP Dunphy as Lumiere. Photo credit Alex Medvick

Maurice ends up encircled by an ensemble of wolves. They dance in the forest near the castle. While back in town they boast about Gaston, and the whole ensemble cheers and yells for more beer! Lefou, played by Stephen Fala, follows this pattern of beautiful yet wasteful human existence. Belle returns to this group of cheery townsfolk and a mob scene is led by Gaston. Smith’s Belle turns, blinks, and seems refreshed after learning to live with the Beast. This moment of realization was an important aspect of her character. The thrifty parody split the naive character into a likable representation of love against a cruel world, but that is the beauty of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

[Media Music Theater] November 17, 2017- January 14, 2017; mediatheatre.org

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