OGDEN — Beauty and the Beast is quite popular right now, with a live action movie having just been released into the theaters. In addition to the original Disney animated film, in 1994 Disney adapted the show for the Broadway stage, adding more songs and changing the story slightly. It is this production, with a script by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice that is now playing at the Ziegfeld Theatre in Ogden, directed by Morgan Parry. This production was well designed, and was a nice evening of theatre that the whole family can enjoy. I saw several young audience members dressed up and holding dolls, very excited to see some of their favorite characters on stage. That is one reason I love to see theatre companies make choices like this to be added to their season.
The stage at the Ziegfeld is small, and this was the smallest venue I have seen try and produce Beauty and the Beast. Set designer Caleb Parry developed a set that captured the magic of the show while also understanding and utilizing the space in the best way possible. There were some issues with sound, which was noticeable in the song “Be Our Guest,” when Aaron Gordon in the role of Lumiere, had a microphone that stopped working halfway through the song. Gordon, was one of the best players of the evening, and it was quite sad that I could not hear his song well. To his credit, Gordon worked well with the micriphone issue, adding volume and inflection to his voice in order to project as much as possible while still remaining in character.
Belle, played by Aria Critchley, was truly enchanting, and I was surprised to find out that she is only 16 years old. Critchley has a fantastic tone quality to her voice, whether speaking or singing, and she balanced well the portrayal of Belle as a strong yet compassionate woman. Daniel Pack, as Gaston, had great chemistry with Critchley, and the two of them were entertaining to watch in the song “Me,” where Gaston is focused upon all of his own grand qualities and Belle is focused on getting out of the situation. And Pack’s leather pants were a distinct asset for the show.
Several of the supporting actors were also delightful to watch, including Samuel Holdaway as Lefou and Jennifer Chadwick as Madame de la Grande Bouche. I was impressed by the physical comedy that Holdaway was able to incorporate into his character, and then even more impressed by the physical prowess he showed during the dance numbers, showing an unexpected amount of skill and flexibility. Chadwick has an absolutely exquisite voice, and was able to play an over-the-top character with such grace that I really hope to see her in more roles on the Utah stage soon. Also, Ashley Mordwinow played a lovely Mrs. Potts, and the classic number “Beauty and the Beast” was a shining moment of the play. As the Beast, Bryant Clair Larsen played well the initial anger transforming into kindness, and I was taken by his ability to make the transition a believable event.
Choreography was a very strong element with this production, especially in “Gaston.” Choreographer Kacee Neff was able to work with the cast to develop that song into one of the best dance numbers I have seen at the Ziegfeld. However, there were a few numbers that did not translate as well to the stage, including “Be Our Guest,” which was the one number that felt too large for the space. Additionally, some of the chorus members, while having great energy, had mannerisms that were a little too overdramatic, and when they were on stage they would often draw attention away from the main players. While energy and humor are important in a production like this, becoming so over the top that it leads to distraction is unfortunate for the other cast members.
Small technical and performance issues aside, Beauty and the Beast at the Ziegfeld was a fun evening of great music and enjoyable storytelling. The strong vocals and dancing in this production really make the show shine. This “tale as old as time” is a safe bet for audiences of any age who are searching for a magical evening of live theatre.