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October 25, 2012

‘Beauty and the Beast’ comes to Playhouse

Great casting, set design brings animated Disney classic to life

By Miranda Rosso

Photo by Joan Marcus

For anyone who can remember how spectacular and spellbinding Disney’s animated

“Beauty and the Beast” was upon its release in the theaters and on DVD, the thought of seeing it enacted by real people on a stage seems underwhelming. However, the national tour of “Beauty and the Beast” at PlayhouseSquare is absolutely breathtaking.

As did the original, this production features a young girl named Belle who is dissatisfied with life in a provincial town. Belle is shunned by the townspeople because of her intelligence, but wooed by conceited, muscle-bound Gaston because of her beauty.

When her father Maurice is taken prisoner by the Beast — a prince whose household is cursed because he loves no one but himself — she offers herself in exchange for her father’s freedom. As it happens, the Beast and his servants can only be saved if he loves another before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose.

Though the big-screen animated aesthetic of this classic Disney story is hard to match in live theater and on tour, scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer maintains that same feel and vibrancy with newfound creativity. Though the use of actual set pieces is minimal, the application of layers of drapes and colorful backdrops make it seem as if the play was pulled from the pages of a children’s book.

The classic storybook characters come alive as well. Hilary Maiberger, who is no stranger to acting in fairytale productions, including “Cinderella” and “Aladdin: The Musical Spectacular,” delivers a delightful combination of naiveté, professional vocals and unlimited enthusiasm. Her performance is reminiscent of a young Judy Garland playing Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Darick Pead is a superb Beast, generating sympathy in his forlorn solo “If I Can’t Love Her” while bringing humor and endless charm to the role. Shani Hadjian, as Madame de la Grande Bouche — an opera singer turned into a chest of drawers — is hilarious. She, along with nearly all members of the show’s supporting cast, are wonderful to watch and a delight to listen to.

The best part of “Beauty and the Beast’s” transition from animation to live-action is the unexpected and much appreciated physical comedy. From acrobatic choreography designed by Matt West to the slapstick antics of Jimmy Larkin as Lefou, this musical was a visual delight. Creative ensemble costuming by Ann Hould-Ward added yet another element to the mix.

Even if you already know how this tale as old as time ends, and who doesn’t, NETwork’s national tour of “Beauty and the Beast” is not to be missed