AMERICAN FORK — Just as my second oldest child and I settled into our chairs in the Valentine Theatre, the familiar French accent of Lumiere from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast floated across the house admonishing patrons to locate exits, put away cell phones, and behave with the usual audience etiquette. Maybe it is the Walt Disney World Annual Passholder in me, but I love when companies choose to mount this show. Making the little things magical adds to the quality of a production and sets a strong tone for a show. While it took some time for Timpanogos Community Theatre cast to pick up the energy of that enchanted introduction, I loved that it invited me as an audience member to immediately jump into the world of the play.
The scenic design by Jason Myers-Whitaker was large, beautiful, and successfully designed to handle difficult transitions, such as the changes of the Beast from human to creature and back, as well as the fall of Gaston from the castle’s battlements. The choice to incorporate several French signs into the set of Belle’s “poor, provincial town” were an important level of authenticity. However, two scenic issues were puzzling to me throughout the show. First, the castle set in the back is omnipresent. I’m not sure if the stage lacks a mid-stage curtain, but there was no masking the castle, even during scenes where it would clearly not be visible.
Second, there was a ton of fog used in this show. I am legendary on the BYU lighting crew for not once but twice, setting off fire alarms in the since-demolished HFAC theatre for using too much haze (see here), but even by my standards the use of fog in this production was excessive. At the start of act 2 as Belle is in the woods with wolves, I was so distracted by audience around me fanning and coughing that I did not realize the scene on stage had happened until it was over. While haze is often useful for masking complicated transitions, it became distracting at times when it was delayed or overwhelming.
The cast had a well rounded ensemble that had ups and downs as they performed the show’s beloved anthems. The ensemble in the beginning number, “Belle” had pedestrian stage business and blocking. The acting initially lacked focus and specificity, and it seemed to take the cast some effort to perform as a group. However, by the time the well executed “Gaston” number took place, there was enthusiasm, full commitment and a sharper focus on the important bits and moments. This execution carried well into “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again,” but dipped by the show’s finale. While some moments may have fallen flat due to the constraints director that Alyse Shattuck faced with such a demanding show with an amateur cast, the whole production can be elevated with a stronger start and keeping up the momentum to the very end. That said, the sequence in Gaston’s tavern alone was worth the price of admission, and the show had many other successful scenes.
The script (by Linda Woolverton) is well known to many, and the music and lyrics (by the team of Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Alan Menken) feel nearly “as old as time.” Disney and Broadway diehards may be disappointed to learn, as I did in person and then researched further after the show, that MTI and Disney have reworked the show to not include the “Maison des Lunes” song or the battle between the villagers and the castle. This led to a sequence where Gaston leads a fierce battalion rioting about saving their village and their lives, only to never be seen again. While this likely reduces some logistical challenges, it makes the show feel unbalanced with a heavy first act.
Far and away, the stars of this show were Sarah Fisher (as Belle) and Bryan Johnson (playing Beast), who played the titular roles. Fisher and Johnson had powerful voices rife with emotion at the right times, and played well off of the various ensemble members around them. I was particularly touched watching the sweetness of the interaction between Belle and her father, Maurice (played by Robert Bahr). Thanks to Bahr’s touching performance his character’s concern for his daughter was sweet, and her reactions to him sincere as she expressed her self-doubts to him and he reassured her. Fisher, throughout the play, had marvelous stage presence, and never cracked or broke character, even in moments that had others grinning around her. She was engaging as Belle, and she elevated the performances of those around her. Many of the other ensemble members seemed to be well cast to their strengths. Shannon Newbold’s portrayal of Madam de la Grande Bouche showed her strong classical skill, and Cogsworth (played by Trevor Williams) seemed to have just two modes: talk and ticked.
The leading actor who I struggled with the most was Adam Colvin as Gaston. While he had a lean and handsome look for the part. He had a classic Flynn Rider-style smolder that was funniest the first time. Colvin was singularly the strongest actor on stage, and the dancing and singing chops most of the show. However, I kept finding that I wanted more; he was quiet and moved in a somewhat muted way, likely because of his years of strong film training. Colvin has plenty of charisma and presence in the role, but his performance would improve with less subtlety.
Colvin’s on volume issues may have been largely a technical problem as well. Sound is a high-cost and highly demanding technical element to do well. Little mistakes are noticed by everyone simultaneously. However, the sound in TCT’s production of Beauty and the Beast were varied. Some actors were too quiet, while others — like the trio of Raelynn Terry, Jessica Eraso, and Mersedez Clifford playing Les Filles de la Ville — were shrill and peaky. Likewise, Newbold’s microphone was always too hot and diminished some of her natural, space filling prowess.
After the show, I saw what I love to see most with this kind of production: community. Friends and neighbors caught up. I heard snippets of conversation about people visiting from out of state coming to see the show simply to see members of the ensemble. Actors took pictures, signed autographs and cracked jokes in character and costume. While some of this review points out shortcomings, Timpanogos Community Theater’s Beauty and the Beast is a show I would take my family to again and again. The show’s major moments landed, and the feeling of togetherness made me feel like a welcome guest, delicious gray stuff or no. So, allow yourself to be a guest of TCT and have as magical a time as I had.