West Valley City – Beauty and The Beast is a tale most are already familiar with. Belle, a beautiful girl, lives in a small French village with her inventor father. Gaston, a brutish but popular man, wants Belle to be his wife. When Belle’s father goes off to the fair with his invention, he becomes lost in the woods and stumbles upon the enchanted castle of a cursed prince turned beast. The Beast imprisons Belle’s father until Belle arrives and offers to take her father’s place. The Beast accepts her offer. The story follows Belle and Beast as they learn to respect, like, and eventually love each other. When Gaston learns of the Beast he and the villagers set out to destroy the Beast. It is a story of love, that is loved by many. I had the privilege of attending this production, directed by John J. Sweeney, at the Hale Center Theatre.
At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about Austin John Smith‘s interpretation of the Beast. The Beast felt a bit whiny and childish when he didn’t get his way, instead of powerful and intimidating, however, as the the show progressed, I decided that I enjoyed this interpretation. After all, the Beast was young when the curse began, and if Chip is still a child then the Beast really hasn’t gotten much older either. I liked that the Beast was a better age match with Belle. Smith brought a youthful innocence and excitement to the Beast. For example, when Belle is reading to the Beast and he gets excited and disappointed with the different parts of the story. The moment that I really fell in love with the Beast was during “If I Can’t Love Her.” Before this moment, I missed the Beast having a deeper speaking register, but during his solo I knew why Smith had been cast as the Beast. His strong singing voice and his emotion made me feel that I suddenly understood the Beast, and he became a real person to me. After intermission, I continued to fall in love with this character. His awkwardness at trying to be a gentleman reminded me of a young man on his first date. As the Beast fell in love with Belle he grew in maturity. This was more than a story about love, it was a story about maturing and finding one’s self, and it was beautifully done.
Karina Gillette makes for a charming Belle. Her portrayal is strong and sassy, yet sweet to those she loves. I particularly loved Belle’s interactions with Gaston during “Me.” Her distain for Gaston was evident in her body language during the choreography of the musical number. This contrasted nicely to her performance later during “Tale As Old As Time” with the Beast. So often choreography screams, “Hey look at me! I’m dancing!” The choreography, by Cory Reed Stephens, in this production was subtle in some moments and it felt natural as if dancing wasn’t even occurring, especially in “Belle.”
There were so many characters to love in this production. Madame de la Grande Bouche, played by Raina Thorne, was definitely a standout. Her operatic voice added a fun layer to each castle ensemble number. Thorne oozed the confidence of a diva while maintaining a fun and lovable side. There was mischief in her demeanor during the castle battle that was echoed among the other palace servants. Gaston, played by Quinn Dietlein, wasn’t quite as forceful and powerful as I would have liked to have seen. I would have liked even more machoism from him. He’s a tall man and many of his movements were vertical, instead levels to bring out his bulk. However, Dietlein still was a solid choice with good comedic timing and a strong voice. I loved his arrogance when talking to the silly girls, saying that they could still have rendezvous even though he was proposing to Belle.
The costumes for this production were expertly designed by Jennifer Stapley Tayor and professionally crafted. The fabrics selected were rich and detailed. Belle’s blue village dress was not just plain blue fabric, rather, it had a faint pattern across it which added texture that was not lost in the small theatre. The costumes, hair and makeup (designed by Krissa Lent) all had a traditional French feel to them, even those of the enchanted castle ensemble. For example, Lumiere (played by Addison Welch) had on a tall powdered wig but it had been shaped to resemble a mostly melted candle. Castle ensemble females had panniers, the wide hoops that held women’s dresses to the sides and left the fronts and backs of the skirts flat, that became the casing for dresser drawers, bookshelves, and serving carts. This helped maintain the time period, while creating moveable set pieces and characters. I also enjoyed that Lumerie’s candelabra hands produced real flames and that Mrs. Potts’s (Kim Allen Tolman) spout spewed steam. Every costumes was well thought out and executed. These were some of the most beautiful costumes I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.
Another delight was the use of puppets and props (designed by Michelle Jensen) to create animals and additional ensemble members. The opening scene was told using puppets which worked well, since the actual characters had not yet been introduced. It left me waiting with anticipation to what the Beast would really look like (Beast make-up and prosthetics designed by Eric Clark). I also enjoyed the shepherdess’s hoop that allowed her flock of sheep to follow where ever she went. I loved that the horse, although a puppet, could swivel its ears and blink its eyes. These small but gorgeous details added to the reality and creativity of this production, and helped create a strong opening.
The costumes and props were elegantly showcased by production/set designer Kacey Udy. The floor was painted to resemble a red and greenish blue marble circular floor. Light projections created a floral design on the outer ring of the floor, and each ring on the floor was trimmed in gold. This allowed the floor to appear stone like at times, and more like an elegant circular rug during other scenes. The circular design was carried into the ceiling where an enormous wreath of roses and lights paralleled the circular floor below. The elegance and beauty was emphasized through the lighting design of Adam Flitton. Lighting helped create different locales, times of the day, and more importantly moods. The chandeliers used during “Tale As Old As Time” were a dazzling and unexpected grandeur.
I feel that often the sound designer is neglected in reviews, but I need to comment on the work of Dan Morgan. This production had so many sound effects that really added to what was occurring. Many of these happened when Lefou gets hit or knocked in the head by Gaston. Each cue was perfectly timed and executed. The sound of a show is often what makes or breaks a production. If it’s done poorly everyone knows, if it’s done correctly nobody thinks about it. There were so many sound cues nailed so precisely that I feel I need to congratulate the sound board operators (Michael Fox, Jonah Napoli, and Dan Morgan) on a job well done.
There is so much more I could write about this production. It was definitely a beast of a production that was beautifully done! Fantastic performers, costumes, music, dancing, props, and technical elements. Every element meshed, balanced and complimented each other. This is definitely a show to see and not just read about. Most of the performances are already sold out so don’t delay in getting your tickets to see Hale Center Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast.
[gss-content-box]Beauty and The Beast plays Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Saturdays at 9AM, 12:30 PM, and 4:00 PM through October 1st (except for September 14) at the Hale Center Theater (3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City). Tickets are $16-35. For more information, visit www.halecentretheatre.org[/gss-content-box]