Monday, July 17, 2017

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“Tale as Old as Time”

This classic musical has music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice and book by Linda Woolverton, is directed by Eric Tucker, music direction and arrangements by J. Oconer Navarro and choreography by Erika Shong Shuch.  It is playing at the Allen Elizabethan outdoor Theatre, downtown Ashland, through October 15 (in repertory).  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-219-8161.

As in all fairy tales, there is a moral to be learned, and this one is no exception:  To seek out Truth, wherever it is hidden, and the Beauty of an individual, by looking deeper than the surface.  As a Reward, Love will out in the end, if your course is True, and you speak from the Heart.  Such is the lesson to be gleaned here.

A few versions of this tale have been presented.  There is the very good musical, stage version by Disney based on his Oscar-nominated, animated movie.  There was also a TV, non-musical version of it some years back starring Klaus Kinski and Susan Sarandon.  But the best by far was the 1940’s, French version by Jean Cocteau.  And it is the only one to reflect the true message.  At the end (spoiler alert) when the Beast is transformed into the handsome Prince, Beauty is aghast and cries out, “Where is my Beast?!”  Folks, she fell in love with the Beast, as he was, therefore, no need to alter his appearance!

The musical is a lot more complicated than the original, short tale or any of its versions.  Belle (Jennie Greenberry), an eligible young lady of a village is being pursued by the biggest braggart in town, Gaston (James Ryen).  He and his faithful stooge, Le Fou (Kate Hurster) pretty well have the town under their thumbs.  That is except for Maurice (Michael J. Hume), an eccentric inventor and his lovely daughter, Belle.  But one day, on his way to the Fair, to sell his contraptions, Maurice gets lost and is trapped in a castle by the Beast (Jordan Barbour), who was once a Prince but has been turned into an animal because he lacked compassion toward a wandering traveler.  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.  There is the rotund clock, Cogsworth (Daniel T. Parker); his love interest, the operatic Mme. de la Grande Bouche (Britney Simpson), now a Wardrobe; the flighty, Lumiére (David Kelly), candle sticks; and his main squeeze, the sexy, Babette (Robin Goodrin Nordli), a feather duster; the matronly, Mrs. Potts (Kate Mulligan), a teapot; and her precocious son, Chip (Cayo Sharma), now a teacup.  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.  And he realizes, a caged bird does not sing, or love, so he must set her free.  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.

This is done in story-book fashion which allows the beautiful costumes (Ana Kuzmanic), the actors’ talents and, most importantly, the audience’s imagination, to participate in creating the tale.  Tucker manages to keep the play flowing by allowing the actors to illuminate the various settings in essentially the same physical atmosphere.  His vision of the Beast is also unique, as it is often played as a Lion but the story doesn’t say that, and so this beast has ram’s horns and resembles something out of Greek mythology.  And the show-stopping, “Be Our Guest,” is a delight in dance and music, as well as an outstanding cast of singers.

This is a happy experience for the whole family and to have it presented under the stars is an added bonus to the magic of the show.  As always, the cast is neigh-on perfect.  Greenberry is a lovely young lady, with a voice to match.  And her character is a proto-type to women’s rights, standing up to a male-dominated society, and putting a suitor in his place by commenting on who is the real beast here.  And, again, to tout that old adage, “there are no small parts…,” Jeremy Peter Johnson shines in the small role of, Monsieur D’Arque, the head of the asylum, as he struts and shakes his way about the stage, leaving no “scenery un-chewed.”

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Ashland Experience:  Black Sheep

I am so happy to say my favorite restaurant has survived, as Susan, the owner, is retiring and left it in the hands of the Fates if it would continue.  Susan writes: 

“It is with great pleasurer and gratitude that I announce I have secured buyers for The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant!  I am honored to introduce the community to our new owners, Clarinda & John Merripen, who will be taking over management of the establishment at the end of July 2017 . . . so keep Flocking on . . .  here’s to another 25 years of The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant!  Long live The Black Sheep – Where – Where you Belong!

Susan Chester, Proprietor”

I have always enjoyed their food & drinks from the British Isles, as they are reasonably priced, a friendly atmosphere, especially Greg, who converses with you as if you were an old friend and Raquel, as charming as she is lovely and with a very impressive background in the hospitality industry, and a past favorite, Prairie, who was the initial reason I was a returning customer.

Also, so far, they are endeavoring to be open late for play-going customers.  This time out I tried their specialty, a pulled-pork pasty, with homemade coleslaw and potato salad and, of course, a Guinness to top it off.  Their special dessert was sweet concoction made with Earl Grey tea.  All of it first-rate and a tasty delight.  I highly recommend this place, just steps away from OSF on the plaza, look for the bright red door!  As always, if you do choose to visit, tell them Dennis sent you (and say “Hi” from me to any of the above mentioned folks).

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