THE BASICS: Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the Broadway musical, by Alan Menken, music and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, with book by Linda Woolverton, directed by Lisa Ludwig, runs through May 22, presented by Theatre of Youth, Saturdays at 2 pm and 7 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, also Friday, May 13 at 7, at the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen Street, Buffalo, NY 14210. 716.884.4400 theatreofyouth.org Masks are required. Runtime: 2-1/2 hours including one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: (adapted from TOY) Taken from a French fable, this classic story tells of Belle, an independent-minded young woman “trapped” in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed into his former self. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: I absolutely loved, loved, loved this show. It had everything I want in a musical. I laughed, I cried (a lot), I fell in love, I got my counterpoint songs (the best was the Busby Berkeley swirl of activity in “Be Our Guest”) and a really well-balanced 10-piece orchestra gave us not only an overture, but also a prologue, entr’acte music, and an extended applause sequence.
And I love the way composer Menken “foreshadows” his melodies, for example, the way the Act I opening melody in the “Belle” number will come back in “Something There” in Act II. Leitmotifs and themes, very operatic. But the lyrics also foreshadow the action, as when Belle, her nose in a book, sings “Oh, isn’t this amazing? / It’s my favorite part because you’ll see / Here’s where she meets Prince Charming / But she won’t discover that it’s him ’til chapter three!” Well, Act II. (Spoiler? I doubt it, assuming if you’re old enough to read this then you already know the story.)
Also in “Belle” lyricist Ashman foreshadows the whole reason that this rom-com works: Beast is isolated but the whole story hinges on the fact that Belle feels that way too, as the villagers sing: “But behind that fair facade / I’m afraid she’s rather odd / Very different from the rest of us / She’s nothing like the rest of us / Yes, different from the rest of us is Belle.” Yes, Beast is lonely, but she’s lonely too.
The two leads for Belle and Beast were outstanding. Genevieve Ellis as Belle has that authentic “Broadway voice” that we’ve come to expect when we go to, say, Shea’s, and on-stage, enhanced by Ken Shaw’s marvelous costumes, she embodies the role. She’s been singing with Second Generation Theatre for a little bit now and it’s so great to have this major young talent in town. Voice Teachers and Choral Directors: You might encourage singers to watch her technique (she’s a BFA in vocal pedagogy), especially the way she opens her mouth, Audra McDonald style, when she’s singing. So many young singers these days are overly dependent on their head mics and vocal projection is becoming a lost art.
Steve Copps who plays Beast just keeps getting better and better. I wasn’t always a fan, but ever since TOXIC AVENGER and then BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY his voice is getting richer and stronger. That’s fairly typical of male voices… they take time. Yes, I know that his mic was electronically processed, but he has the chops to begin with.
Bobby Cooke (who was also on stage as Belle’s father, Maurice) created choreography that was crisp and fresh. And with dancing spoons and wardrobes, teapots and cups on a relatively small stage, that’s no easy feat.
Buffalo’s “funny guys” were recruited for the comic roles – Bobby Cooke, Josh Wilde, Jacob Albarella, and Louis Colaiacovo, along with David Wysocki (last seen as Lord Voldemort in PUFFS) but here filling in for David Spychalski as Gaston, the self-centered “manly man” attracted to Belle. They all delivered, as expected.
The “Silly Girls” (see the entire cast list below) were appropriately silly and great physical clowns and their ensemble dancing was well synchronized.
A special shout out to Charmagne Chi playing Madame de la Grande Bouche (the Lady with the Big Mouth). This will not be lost on fans of Ms. Chi (of whom I am one) but what might escape your notice (especially because everyone is masked) is that in the choral numbers there are particularly high notes that “sweeten” the harmony. All Chi.
don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a kiddie show.
Just because it’s on at Theatre of Youth, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a kiddie show. It’s a full-fledged musical that would be appropriate for almost any theater in Buffalo. In fact, most of the audience opening weekend (I went on Mother’s Day, as it turned out) was made up of adults – grandparents, parents, spouses, friends, and, yes, theater critics. So while you might feel awkward about buying a ticket for, say, ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE, you should not deny yourself the chance to see this show.
Now, I’ll admit, I’m a goner for anything composed by Alan Menken. Of course he’s universally loved for his scores and songs for films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, but as I understand it, he could also be credited for saving those studios. You see, the great Disney animation machine had fallen on hard times until Menken’s “The Little Mermaid” was a success, followed by “Beauty and the Beast” which was a HUGE success, earning a number of firsts: the first animated film to ever win the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy…. the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and Disney’s first animated film to be adapted into a Broadway musical (which ran thirteen years, from 1994 to 2007).
Is he really that good? Oh, yes. Along the way, Menken (also known for “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas” and “Little Shop of Horrors”) has won 8 Academy Awards, 1 Tony Award, 11 Grammy Awards, a Daytime Emmy Award which, all tolled, make him one of only sixteen people to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony, collectively known as an “EGOT.”
Of course, it takes a team to write the music and lyrics and that includes Menken’s long-time collaborator, Howard Ashman, who unfortunatly died of HIV/AIDS on March 14, 1991. Why is that date important? Because he was only 40 at the time, and never got to see the final product or personally receive his Oscar.
Tim Rice was brought in to complete the film. I’m not sure which numbers are Ashman and which Rice, except that I know for sure that Beast’s Act I closer “If I can’t Love Her” was by Tim Rice.
Directed by Lisa Ludwig, and production team includes Bobby Cooke (Choreographer), Ken Shaw (Costume Designer), Todd Proffitt (Lighting Designer), David King (Set Designer), Diane Almeter Jones (Props Artisan), Brian Wantuch (Sound Design), Brian Cavanagh (Production Manager), Steve Vaughan (Fight Choreographer), and Brittany Wysocki (Stage Manager), plus an 11-piece orchestra led by Music Director Joe Isgar.
The cast includes: Genevieve Ellis (Belle), Steve Copps (Beast), Annette Daniels-Taylor (Mrs. Potts), David Spychalski (Gaston), Josh Wilde (Lafue), Jacob Albarella (Cogsworth), Lou Colaiacovo (Lumiere), Bobby Cooke (Maurice), Charmagne Chi (Madame De La Grand Bouche), Elizabeth Arnold (Babette), with Silly Girls played by Arin Lee Dandes, Alexandra Montesano and Faith Walh, plus new-comer Grace Sullivan as Chip. In addition, we have Thomas Evans, Joseph Greenan, Karen Harty, Nathaniel Higgins, Michael Kelleher, Emory Redfearn and David Wysocki as ensemble/understudies.
In an era where for COVID and cost-cutting many theatres are going with virtual programs, TOY has gone the other way and then some.
A few more kudos. In an era where for COVID and cost-cutting reasons many theatres are going with virtual programs, TOY has gone the other way and then some. The opening pages look like the playbills you’d get at Shea’s for a touring Broadway show. The bios each include a thumbnail headshot in full color (classy touch). And, taking a page from SHAKESPEARE IN DELAWARE PARK (where this musical’s director, Lisa Ludwig, is the Executive Director) the last 10 pages of the playbill are in a workbook style, with a coloring page, a word search, a page to design a costume, and much more. It even has a section on THEATRE ETIQUETTE which might not be a bad thing for Shea’s to include.
There’s no age restriction posted that I could see, but given that it’s 2-1/2 hours long, I’m thinking 7+ but of course, you know your child best. In summary, I agree completely with TOY Executive Director Tracy Snyder who says: “This season is our 50th anniversary and this musical is for audiences of all ages! Whether you are familiar with Disney’s adaptations or not, it is an exceptional experience to see live on stage, which is not to be missed.”
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!