Friday, July 20, 2018

Review: Beauty and the Beast at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune, July 20, 2018
By Alec Clayton
Belle (Cherisse Martinelli) and the Beast (Brandon Hell), photo by Kat Dollarhide
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by and Tim Rice and Howard Ashman is now playing at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It is a big production with an elaborate set and lighting, fabulous costumes and a 36-person cast, all of whom are on stage at once during some of the large production numbers such as the show stopping “Be Our Guest” with complex choreography by director and choreographer Jon Douglas Rake.
Set designer Judy Cullen returns with an amazing set featuring a delightful backdrop painting of a small French village and a stunningly beautiful castle replete with a broad staircase and rich blue and purple and gold colors enhanced by lighting director John Chenault’s shadowy effects.
The costumes by Jocelyne Fowler are wildly inventive, as they must be for humans turned into walking and talking clocks and candles and teapots. Belle’s dresses are luxurious and beautiful, especially a white gown that looks like a layered wedding cake.
Prince Adam (Brandon Hell) is turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress (Kathy Kluska). For years he has hidden his grotesqueness in his castle. His servants are turned into animated pieces of furniture and household items such as Cosworth the clock (Chris Serface), Lumiere the candle (Mauro Bozzo) and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Diane Bozzo). They know the spell can be broken, and everyone will become human again only if the beast can learn to love and be loved.
Meanwhile, back in the village, the beautiful Belle (Cherisse Martinelli) is being relentlessly courted – stalked and harassed by today’s standards – by an arrogant, self-centered hunter named Gaston (Jimmi Cook) who thinks he is God’s gift to women. Belle’s father, the eccentric inventor, Maurice (Joe Woodland) is captured and imprisoned in the beast’s castle. Belle goes to the castle in search of her father and offers to be the beast’s captive if he will let her father go, which he does. Instead of being put under lock and key as her father was, she is given a private room in the castle and asked to dine with the beast. She resists at first, but gradually she learns to see the humanity underneath the beast’s outer shell. What this leads to is, of course, what the audience knows will happen, and it is beautiful and magical and romantic despite being totally predictable.
Cook, who has the physique of a body builder, is perfectly cast as Gaston, who spends all his time with muscle poses when he is not pursuing Belle. Beyond looking the part so perfectly, he is a good actor and singer.
I like the choice of Martinelli for the part of Belle because she is befittingly beautiful, not in a trite fairy-princess sort of way, but with the beauty of a down-to-earth, sensible and intelligent young woman, which is precisely how Belle is written. She also has a strong voice.
Hell does a terrific job of acting, and he has a beautiful deep and mellow voice. My only complaint is he is not large enough and his costume is not ugly or frightening enough to be the beast as described (at one point, Maurice says he is eight feet tall). On the other hand, since it is a play that appeals to children, it is probably a good thing he isn’t more frightening.
Also deserving of special note are Bozzo as Mrs. Potts and Karen Early-Evans as Madame de la Grande Bouche, both of whom sing stupendously.
The only actor I found to be somewhat disappointing is Woodland as Belle’s father, who should be more animated. My only other complaint is I wish it could be about half an hour shorter. It did drag a bit in parts of the second act.
All-in-all, it is a wonderful fantasy romance beautifully staged.

Beauty and the Beast
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 29
WHERE: Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$31
INFORMATION: (253) 565-6867,

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