Birds chirp happily from an unknown location, and a light tune begins to play as the overhead lights shine on rows of quaint French cottages. Silently, villagers begin stepping out into the streets, yawning, stretching and getting their homes and stores ready for another busy day.
Everyone seems to be in motion; everyone, that is, save for a young woman in a blue dress and bow, holding a book in front of her face. Right on cue, she lowers the book, and Belle utters her first words: “Little town, it’s a quiet village…” So begins the musical production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”
As a part of its national tour, the 1991 Disney movie-turned-broadway show stopped in Costa Mesa to play at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts from January 14th through the 19th. Originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions and with lyrics by Alan Menken, the musician who scored numerous Disney films from “Pocahontas” to “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” stays true to the classic movie it was adapted from though audiences are introduced to a couple new songs that didn’t make the cut in the movie.
Hilary Maiberger is the story’s heroine, Belle, a bookish, strong-willed girl whom the town isolates somewhat because of her “odd” characteristics. Belle has always been my favorite Disney princess because of her relatability she’s family-oriented and witty but also vulnerable and Maiberger humanizes her even more. She rolls her eyes and delivers sarcastic one-liners ones that go completely over Gaston’s inflated head but her slightly adapted sense of humor is never annoying, and always endearing. Maiberger also has crystal-clear vocals. Her solo in “Home” showcases the wide vocal range for which she is known and has shown off in her other broadway roles (Jasmine in “Aladdin: The Musical Spectacular” and Cinderella in “Cinderella,” among others).
While Darick Pead dons fur for his supposedly principal role as the Beast, it’s Tim Rogan who commands the stage and ultimately steals the show as the pompous villain we all love to hate, Gaston. Maybe part of it has to do with the fact that Gaston is given as much stage time as the Beast, or that his self-titled song is one of the best scenes in the musical. But Rogan’s puffed out chest, cheesy grin and overly-masculine bravado make Gaston less villainous and more ridiculous.
Though the Beast is more or less adequate, thankfully, the enchanted objects in this production are as lovable as they are in the film. Hassan Nazari-Robati and James May balance each other out through their bickering as Lumiere and Cogsworth, respectively. And though Babette, the French maid-turned-feather-duster, appears just a few times in the movie, Stephanie Moskal leaves a memorable impression as the flirty and jealous character used to provide comic relief. It’s a shame that the climax of the film the hilarious scene where the furniture fight back against the village mob to defend the castle isn’t included in the show, but it only makes us cherish their other scenes even more.
“Gaston” may be the most entertaining song in the show (what’s more fun than a chorus line of drunken, pint-clinking villagers?) and “Be Our Guest” dazzles with flashing lights and confetti that spews out into the audience, but the most magical song has to be Kristin Stewart’s solo as Mrs. Potts, who croons to her son Chip as she watches Belle and the Beast fall in love on the dancefloor in “Beauty and the Beast.” The whole theater falls silent as Belle emerges from the wings in her iconic yellow ball gown, and the Beast tenderly takes her into his arms as the familiar song begins to fade in. Stewart’s altered, elderly-sounding vocals are credible, yet still carry the power of the younger actress that she is.
The last half hour of the show may seem rushed compared to the first two hours, but what’s important is that “Beauty and the Beast” will not disappoint the Disney fans who have every line of the film memorized. The actors add their own style to the characters and songs like “Human Again” and “A Change in Me” are an extra bonus, yet “Beauty and the Beast” is still a tale as old as time.
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