A tale as old as time, with songs as old as rhyme, Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" immediately brings to mind classic characters and a plainly gothic setting. Elizabeth Forward defies these old-time simplicities by infusing its production with colorful bright sets and exquisite costumes, but most of all, through the work of astute actors and actresses.
Forever a Disney childhood favorite, the story of Belle, a beautiful but 'odd' girl, begins by emphasizing her isolation in a traditional village. Her father is the paramount importance in her life, followed by her enjoyment of reading and the adventure it brings. Belle's life quickly escalates into an adventure of its own when her father goes missing in the wolf-filled woods only to become prisoner to a cruel beast. All the while she attempts to avoid the obvious pursuits of the egotistical town hunk, Gaston.
In a quick turn of events, Belle replaces her father as prisoner in the gothic castle. As Belle becomes acquainted with her new home, she meets the peculiar figures that inhabit it, and the frightening master. She finds a curse has struck the castle, as all its former servants have transformed into various household items. Little does she know, the only way to break the decade-old curse requires the beastly master to fall in love with a girl and have his feeling reciprocated.
The dingy opening scene in which the narrator introduces the tale to children does not fit the tempo the rest of the production brings. Thus, the show progresses as the story develops and the cursed rose loses its petals.
However the next setting of a bustling town reminds us that the real story begins with Belle. Shelby Ruschak's portrayal of the leading lady is elegant from the rise of curtain: she does not simply rely on her natural talent and voice but enhances them all the further by careful consideration of her mannerisms, making sure she embraces as much Belle as possible in her every action. Her convincing emotions are most visible in the riveting scenes shared with her father Maurice, played by Ian Denham.
The jocularity of Gaston is captured by Baliey McCune, an obvious veteran of the stage. McCune and Ruschak work well together, appearing comfortable through their courting and rejection respectively. But McCune's real partner on stage is Tyler Prah, who plays the easily excitable Lefou. Prah's consistence is admirable; he seems to bring the same level of high intensity spunk to every scene. Together this duo captures the audience's attention as the villains.
Though the bitter beast initially spends his time stooped over ordering his subjects around, Gavin Carnahan handles his character's struggle to become a gentleman in the right way: slowly and clumsily, as most teenagers still do.
However Beauty and Beast hardly comprise the whole of the cast's talent. James Benedek takes on the challenging role of Lumiere, the candelabra, which pays off nicely for him as he is instantly received as an entertaining crowd favorite. A more hidden talent resides in the motherly Mrs. Potts, played by sophomore Mattie Winowitch. Only brief glimpses of her ability are sprinkled throughout the story until the well-known ballroom scene. Here, she stuns the audience with a heartwarming rendition of the headliner, "Beauty and the Beast".
As Act I draws to a close, Lumiere leads his companions in properly welcoming Belle to "Be Our Guest." After impressive showings by the sparkling plates, regal utensils, and eccentric appliances, the song concludes with an explosion of confetti.
Then during the climax of Belle and the Beast's romance, paper hearts rain from the banisters. On the night I attended, Elizabeth Forward was packed with a sold-out crowd and every set of eyes was glued to the stage until another round of confetti concluded the musical along with bows and a well deserved standing ovation.
"Beauty and the Beast" ran April 11-13.
The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson. First Published April 23, 2013 3:45 PM