Sunday 9 December 2018

Beauty & the Beast returns for 6th holiday visit to ACT
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

N.B. The following is an updated redux of BLR's  December, 2018 review of this show that I am unable to attend this year. Many of the actors have changed, but the production team is identical and its excellence will no doubt reoccur without missing a beat.

From the footlights : Likely no question my wife and I were the only viewers at the Stanley last December who had never seen Disney's iconic Oscar-winning 1991 cartoon flik. Neither any of ACT's four previous mounts of this show, the 2019 version makes six. Thus except for the movie duet with Peebo Bryson-&-Celine Dion, until last year its music was as foreign to us as its Grimm-like plot line.

For others equally dim about all this, a Plot Quicky helps and won't be too hairy to sum up : Snotty prince disses a witch. She curses him. Makes him into a bearded Minotaur. Gives him a magic rose whose petals will all fall off and petrify him forever in his beastliness. Unless he finds a way to give someone love and be loved in return. 

Michelle Bardache (Belle) and Jonathan Winsby (Beast) make googly-eyes at one another just before the transformation occurs not a moment too soon before the last rose petal drops off. 
Photo credit : David Cooper
The prince's household staff are cursed, too : in the ten years since the witch's visit they are all slowly being transmogrified into household objects like a teapot, a featherduster, a wind-up clock. Like Beast, their fate threatens to be permanent. Entre Belle, a beauty who gets caught up in palace politics saving her eccentric Dad from attacking wolves. Will she learn to love the Beast, and he her before the last petal drops?

What the show brings to the stage : Fact is the premise of La Belle et la Bete (as originally scripted in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve) is downright off-putting to literalists. Princeton University's WordNet dictionary links two definitions associated with la Bete : "the stupid brutal quality of a beast" and "unnatural attraction, including sexual, to a beast". So p.c. trigger warning called for : viewers have to overcome innate prejudicial distate for beastly conduct. 

The way to sidestep one's anti-beastie bias, however? Not hard at all with this theatre production. It'll happen just like magic through this magnificent Arts Club show, no question. Make the beast look less like a Frankenstein character and more like your hippie uncle Herbie who lives in the wilds outside Nelson. Put a suit on him and the possibility of true love flowering between him and Belle (syn : goddess, enchantress) soon takes root.  

Beast tries to "normalize" the relationship with Belle to woo her over by having her read to him. It just might work -- his Harry Rosen threads are trick, but he still needs to consult with his barber.
Photo credit : David Cooper
Production values that shine through : Spectacle is what the stage show is all about, and spectacle the Arts Club production delivers in spades. It's a roundhouse flurry of costumes, music, lights, sets, staging and absolutely eye-popping choreography.

Alison Green's set with its numerous fly's and scrims and scenery wagons results in a compleat envelopment of the sumptuous Stanley stage. Coupled with Gerald King's richly inventive lighting design the effects are dazzling and enchanting.

Then there's Barbara Clayden's captivating and bewitching costumes dozens and dozens over for the 20 characters who roam and romp and rollick up, down, over-&-around the kinetic sets from castle to townsite to woods for two mesmerizing hours.

Gaston leads the local pub-rabble through a hearty beer-toast as they party it up hoisting brewskis in hopes the arrogant, tumescent hunter will win the intellectual Belle's heart instead of that ugly mortal Beast. 
Photo credit : David Cooper
Mesmerizing in large measure because of choreographer Scott Augustine's re-do for the show of local wizard Valerie Easton's 2008 fancy footwork. First there's Gaston's beer stein swillery antics pictured above. Then comes the "Be Our Guest" caper of the troupe with knives & forks & plates & platters busting out of them all over not to mention their folies bergere kick-up that was clockwork perfect. Truly a hoodoo of wonder and amazement to watch and cheer to.

Absolutely terrific co-ordination of the off-stage orchestra with the on-stage action. Of the band, Henry Christian's trumpet, once again, proves how crisp and heavenly that horn can be.

And speaking of sound, Chris Daniels' sound design was not just notable but embracing. Never in any ACT performance has the amplification of singers' voices with live orchestra been more stunning on the ears : every lyric and word heard perfectly, no drowning out by the band. 

Acting pin-spots : Fewer "pin spots" to note than full-on kliegs and floods for the whole ensemble. As the muscly bully Gaston, Kamyar Pazamdeh does a reprise of the role this year. No doubt his acting will once more be buff writ large in a role made the more spoofy his sidekick LaFou, played this season by Ali Watson. 

Those characters are magnified deliciously by the skippery scantering Shawn Macdonald who appears this year once again as chief-of-staff Cogsworth. His riffs are pure hoot and hilarity. Bernard Cuffling as Maurice, well, septuagenarian Bernard Cuffling could don the greasepaint and play Othello and the crowd would giggle-&-cheer-&-stomp their approval of him, no question.

Who gonna like : Must say I don't believe up to December 2018 I had ever heard an opening night audience so robust and spontaneous and eager in their joy! at what they saw unfold as musical comedy theatrics in front of them. And while a Standing O! is commonplace among Vancouver audiences -- too often knee-jerk -- on last year's opening night it was wellwell! well! deserved. 

Faithful readers of BLR know that personally I tend toward the intense and gritty small-stage stuff of a David Mamet or Anosh Irani or John Patrick Shanley more than I do big-stage musical theatrics. 

But this, this! was a night to remember. Truly a spectacle that treats eye-&-ear-&-funny-bone-&-heart in equal measure. This is a romantic comic circus of fun that every generation will get a seasonal buzz from without any doubt. 

Particulars Original Disney Theatrical Productions (1994) : Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman-&-Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Produced by Arts Club Theatre at its Stanley stage. On until January 6, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644or www.artsclub.comRun-time two-and-a-half hours, including intermission.

Production team :  Director Bill Millerd.  Musical Director Ken Cormier.  Original Choreographer Valerie Easton.  Production Choreographer Scott Augustine.  Set Designer Alison Green.  Costume Designer Barbara Clayden.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Chris Daniels.  Projection Designer Joel Grinke.  Stage Manager Caryn Fehr.  Assistant Stage Manager April Starr Land.  Apprentice Stage Manager Koh Lauren Quan. Fight Directors Mike Kovac with Ryan McNeill Bolton. 

Orchestra :  Ken Cormier (Director; Keyboard).  Henry Christian (Trumpet).  Martin Fisk (Drums, Percussion).  Sean Bayntun (Keyboard).  Sasha Niechoda (Keyboard).  Andrew Poirier (Trombone).

Performers :  Susan Anderson (Mrs. Potts).  Michelle Bardache (Belle).  Keiran Bohay (Ensemble).  Sierra Brewerton (Ensemble, Dance Captain). Graham Coffeng (Lumiere). Bernard Cuffling (Maurice).  Caleb Di Pomponio (Ensemble). Austin Eckert (Ensemble). Elizabeth Ford (Chip).  Meghan Gardiner (Madame de la Grande Bouche).  Erik Gow (Monsieur D'Arque).  Shannon Hanbury (Babette). Caleb Lagayan (Ensemble).  Jennifer Lynch (Ensemble). Shawn Macdonald (Cogsworth).  Makayla Moore (Ensemble).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Gaston).  Ali Watson (LeFou).  Jonathan Winsby (Beast). Synthia Yusuf (Ensemble).


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