Sunday, December 22, 2013

Beauty and the Beast—Pixie Dust Productions at the Newmark Theatre—SW Portland

The Magic of Love

This classic Disney musical is written by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.  It is directed by Greg Tamblyn, choreography by Amy Beth Frankel and music direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is presented by Hasson Company Realtors and is playing at the Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland at 1111 SW Broadway through December 29th.  For more information go to or call 503-704-8991.

The tale is based on a short story by a French writer, which is not very good.  Disney has enhanced it a hundred-fold.  There was also a non-musical TV version on Shelley Duvall’s Story Theatre.  But the classic straight version was a French adaptation in a film of the 1930’s by poet Jean Cocteau.  In fact Disney freely borrowed some of that film’s ideas into their animated version, such as portions of the castle actually being alive.  And then came the stage musical, which is almost a twin of the animated film.

The musical is a lot more complicated than the original tale.  Belle (Erin Charles), an eligible young lady of a village is being pursued by the biggest braggart in town, Gaston (Stacey Murdock).  He and his stooge, Le Fou (Joey Cote) pretty well have the town under their thumbs.  That is except for Maurice (Dan Murphy), an eccentric inventor and his lovely daughter, Belle.

But one day, on his way to the market, Maurice gets lost and is trapped in a castle by the Beast (Leif Norby) who was once a Prince but has been turned into a animal because he lacks compassion.  The only way to break the spell is to find someone who will love him just as he is.  If not, the transformation will be irreversible and he and his staff will fully become the objects they resemble.  When Beauty tracks her father down, she offers herself in exchange for him.

Now a prisoner herself she must deal with the Beast and, with the help of his staff, she slowly changes his animalistic ways.  In the end, Love wins out and the lesson may be, not to judge others by their outward appearance but look at what’s beneath.  The lyrics of the music enhance the story to an enormous degree, giving all the characters a full view of their feelings.

At the outset I have to say, I could not find anything to fault, in any aspect, of this complicated production (and that may be a first).  In other words, everything works.  The Magic of Love and Tolerance is elevated to new heights with this enchanting and enchanted production!  So one must bow to the Master Magician, the director himself, Tamblyn, for creating such a special world for us.  He has assembled a crew and cast that is first–rate.

This would rival, and surpass, many imported touring productions that come through town.  Which goes to show you, that one need not go to Broadway to see class, for we have engendered that here, in our own backyard, and this is a fine example of it.  Talent does not reign “out there” in some netherworld but can be found right next door.  All we have to do to find it is to open our eyes…and our hearts…for it is truly…here.

The dances by Frankel are super—I especially like the tap number and, of course, “Be Our Guest.”  And the orchestra, conducted by Lytle, is spot on.  The costumes by Deanne Middleton and the Marriot Theatre are extraordinary, very colorful and expressive.  And the design of the set by Alex Berry, lighting by Mark LaPierre and sound by Timothy Richey are perfect.  And it was nice to her the narration by Sam Mowry, so well delivered by Portland’s own Radio Theatre expert.

Charles is a lovely Belle, both in looks, acting and voice.  She appears to have actually walked off the screen of the animated persona to give us the flesh-and-blood version.  Well done.  And Norby (a very familiar Portland actor) is convincing as both the raging beast and the vulnerable man beneath.  He handles both the acting and singing chores with aplomb, both being very touching and powerful.  And Murdock is the babbling, boring, braggart you love to hate.  He has a powerful voice and is so convincing as the villain that I would have expected to hear boos at his curtain call.

Dale Johannes as Lumiere, the candlestick, is fantastic, giving a wonderful interpretation of the constant lover.  He shines in the musical numbers.  And Joe Theissen as Cogswortrh, the clock, is equally effective as the somewhat stiff, befuddled servant, trying his best to please.  Amy Jo Halliday is an enchanting Mrs. Potts, the teapot, singing beautifully the signature title song (she also shone last year as Maria Callas in the musical, Ari-Maria, at Triangle).  And Aida Valentine as her son, Chip, a teacup, is easily up to the talent of any of the grown-ups in the show.

Sara Catherine Wheatley as the flirtatious duster, Babette, is delicious; Pam Mahon as the operatic Vanity is hilarious; Claire Slyman as the acrobatic carpet is fun; and Cote as the stooge and Murphy as the father give ample support to the show.  And the ensemble is just fine, very flexible in all their incarnations and even the Jefferson Dancers lend showy support in the dance numbers.  And all terrific in the elaborate show-stopper, “Be Our Guest.”

This is one not to be missed folks and a perfect Holiday show.  I highly recommend it.  If you do go, tell them Dennis sent you.

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