Beauty tames the Beast at the Grand
The hit 1991 Disney film turned into hit 1996 musical through the combined talents of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Time Rice incorporates all the infectiously catchy melodies and wit of the movie with equally memorable, original interludes and refrains. Throughout the past decade, Beauty and the Beast has become a smash hit North America round, earning endless acclaim, and The Grand's performance proves itself worthy of no less.
Directed by Susan Ferley, Beauty and the Beast is a stunning masterpiece for the eyes and ears. Set designer John Dinning creates an unmistakably fairytale appeal with a revolving staircase set that transforms from a Provencal marketplace into a forest, pub or grand Baroque castle with ease. Other delighting features include an ornamental frame around the stage reminiscent of medieval page illumination and a cobble-stoned moving sidewalk.
Equally stunning are the costumes, designed by Judith Bowen, which not only magically transform people into house wares but a relatively small ensemble into a large company of quick-changing characters. Of particularly remarkable innovation are the extravagantly decked vanity costume of Madame de la Grande Bouche and the rotating parade of ensemble forks, napkins and dishes during the “Be Our Guest” scene.
Perhaps more magical though is the brilliant choreography provided by Gina Berti who definitely succeeded at the difficult task of creating whimsy and grandness with an ensemble of less than a dozen. From an amusing cup-clinking pub scene, to the impressive pageantry of aristocratic Parisian food service to the intensity of a death scene, Berti's obvious talent at creating challenging and entertaining dance sequences is matched only by those performing them.
From tumbling to operatics, the cast is truly dazzling but it is the comedy of duo Patrick R. Brown as Cogsworth and Neil Foster as Lumiere as well as Marcus Nance as the Beast that bring the most to the show. Brown and Foster's performance together exudes a combined hilarity that will cause embarrassingly out-loud laughter. Foster also displays particularly comical foppish grace during the “Be Our Guest” sequence, which is also definitely the highpoint of the show.
Beyond the comedic elements of the show though reigns Nance's vocal styling as Beast that can only be described as powerful. Under the musical direction of Andrew Petrasiunas, the cast is transformed into a lavish choir that will keep audiences looking for the extra hidden singers. And while all the voices posses' obvious talent, it is Nance's that evokes the most emotion, truly commanding and tortured: the perfect Beast.
Although the plot lends itself to young audiences, the mastery of execution will delight musical theatre enthusiasts of any age. The play is running at The Grand until December 30 and should definitely not be missed.