A Beauty of a Musical
By: Miranda K.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Wendy Dann, choreographed by Chase Brock, musical direction by Kevin Long, set design by Kent Goetz, costumes by Pete Rush, lighting by Chris Lee. Starring Greg Bostwick, Julian Brightman, Jesse Bush, Abby Church, Chumei McKernan, Aaron Morris, Jonathan Parks-Ramage, Steve Pacek, James Potter, Sarah Rolleston, Kyra Lorraine Selman, Erica Steinhagen, Brooke Stone and Jason Veasey.
Sometimes the most satisfying theatrical experiences are those that thoroughly thwart expectations. For the Hangar Theatre’s latest production, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” instead of chasing the impossibly huge special effects and elaborate costumes of the Broadway production, the creative team at the Hangar has opted to do the opposite. The result is a Disney extravaganza channeled through an unassuming cabaret, a backstage spin on a classic fairy tale, exercising the audience’s imagination instead of merely presenting an impressive spectacle.
Behind the scenes at “Le Rose,” a turn-of-the-century cabaret theater, the fable of a gentle beauty and a deceptively fearsome beast emerges as a boy (James Potter) thumbs through a storybook. As he is drawn into the well-known tale, he begins to incorporate the bustling backstage denizens into the action, pushing props into dancers’ hands and fashioning makeshift sets from ordinary ladders and boxes.
The manager and the grinning master of ceremonies obligingly transform to Cogsworth (Julian Brightman) and Lumiere (Jason Veasey, whose timing makes up for even the most tepid punchlines). A washerwoman (sugary sweet Kyra Lorriane Selman) becomes Belle, a mime dons a cloak and becomes the Beast (brooding, sensitive Jonathan Parks-Ramage). A bullying stevedore (Jesse Bush, perfectly swaggering and boorish) takes on the role of Gaston accompanied by his toadying sidekick Lefou (a goofy Aaron Morris).
Potter himself leaps into the narrative as the spunky teacup, Chip, slipping in and out of his costume to orchestrate set changes with speedy dexterity. It all has a very “Alice and Wonderland” feel, particularly in the way the cabaret characters’ pantomimed interactions reflect the behavior of their fairy tale counterparts.
The energy of the cast, a diverse group of veterans and recent graduates, makes up for the absence of background vocals. Morris and Bush in particular fill their “Gaston” number with such vigor it feels as big as the ensemble piece it was originally intended to be. The combined vocal strength of the ensemble is so effective that by the time “Be Our Guest” rolls around, the massive set pieces and expensive production values expected of most Disney shows seems patently unnecessary.
The pace does take a few numbers to settle in, however. Director Wendy Dann attains the most success in scenes within the enchanted castle, when she allows the trappings of a careworn reality and the gushing enthusiasm of her cast to convey the vibrancy of a fully illustrated universe. The concept falters, however, when it comes time to produce an angry mob, the starkness of the production lacking the drama and tension of the climactic scenes from the animated film.
Costume designer Pete Rush’s creations are drawn from the wardrobes of the cabaret scene, suggesting rather than fully realizing the transformation of actor to household object. Mrs. Potts (Erica Steinhagen) is recognizable from her spout-shaped hat, Chip’s cup-like appearance is achieved via an upside-down petticoat and the Beast’s dominant feature is a dreadlocked headpiece. The result is visually distinctive, another successful departure from the prepackaged character of the Broadway version.
The set design by Kent Goetz places the audience backstage behind the proscenium arch of “Le Rose,” offering a surprising amount of versatility. With well-choreographed familiarity the cast moves the set pieces around to create the basic framework of scenery, making use of unexpected levels and angles to invigorate the limited stage space.
Particularly engaging is the use of the pit ensemble led by Joel Gelpe, with only four instruments in place of a large Broadway orchestra. The reduced instrumental texture actually brings out the delicacy of Alan Menken’s compositions, making even the flashiest musical numbers of the show feel at home in the relatively modest space.
The Disney elements are readily recognizable in the familiar melodies, gentle dialogue and general cheeriness of the show, but the Hangar’s interpretation moves beyond the obvious and mainstream. The wholesome vibe of a fairly corporate musical dissipates beneath the minimalist attitude of the production, becoming something altogether richer than a theme park halftime show or even a national tour.