If you grew up a Disney kid, those simple hour-and-a-half-long animated films are deeply embedded in your mind. The songs, the characters, and the artwork are a part of you no matter how long it’s been since you last saw your favorite.
Beauty and the Beast was always at the top of my Disney list for a number of reasons. Belle is a bookworm who, along with her father, values intelligence, creativity, and imagination. This puts her at odds with the mundane, provincial town she lives in. She’s always hoping for more. Her story and heart are told with an infectious and powerful musical score by Alan Menken, which connects the story to a tune that sticks you right in the heart.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF LUIS ESCOBAR REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
- SHE REALLY IS A FUNNY GIRL: The townspeople are unsure what to think of the beautiful bookworm Belle (Annali Fuchs) in the Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA) production of 'Beauty and the Beast.'
So when this beloved story is adapted to the stage, purists may approach a production with trepidation. But thankfully, when the Pacific Conservatory Foundation (PCPA) takes the reins, you can let go of your doubts with confidence.
From the first familiar melodies in the prologue, PCPA’s production of Beauty and the Beast puts a spell on you. We learn of the cursed prince, whose vanity and pride cost him dearly. Shrouds of mystery and magic cloak the stage and the actors.
But after the prologue, the dawn rises on a much more ordinary world, a simple town square. The bustling of the town begins as a lone young woman, Belle (Annali Fuchs), wanders through, reading her book. Fuchs introduces Belle with a clear voice and a bright eye in one of the story’s most beloved songs and busiest sequences.
The entire town balks at Belle, wondering at her quirkiness and apparent lack of regard for their way of life. There is one person who isn’t deterred by her differences, though, the brash and brazen Gaston (George Walker), who has his keen hunter’s sights set on Belle. He explains to his bumbling sidekick Lefou (Tyler Campbell) that he wants to marry Belle, because a man as beautiful as he deserves a woman as beautiful as she.
Belle is far from interested in the boorish Gaston and makes it clear she wants nothing to do with him, but that is hardly enough to quell his advances. Walker steals the show as Gaston with incredible humor laced with the character’s more sinister side. Campbell also demonstrates impeccable timing as Lefou. The two together are a driving comedic force in the production.
- CATCH THE SHOW: The Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA) presents its season opening production of Beauty and the Beast showing through Dec. 23 at the Marian Theatre, 800 S. College Drive, Santa Maria. Cost is $29.50 to $39.50. More info: 922-8313 or pcpa.org.
Also fantastically funny but at the same time heartwarming is Peter S. Hadres’ performance as Maurice, Belle’s father. Hadres and Fuchs display some real chemistry when depicting this important relationship between parent and child. The two are outcasts because of who they are; all they have is each other.
But the two are separated when Maurice takes his new invention to the fair. He is attacked by a pack of wolves in the forest and flees in hope of shelter. He finds a towering castle, apparently unoccupied.
Through the shadows come two arguing voices. Maurice finds not two people speaking, but two apparently embodied objects, a clock and a candlestick. They are Cogsworth (Michael Jenkinson) and Lumiere (Andrew Philpot), of course, two of the cursed prince’s servants who fell under the powerful enchantment as well. Along with Mrs. Potts (Kitty Balay) and her son Chip (Dani Relyea or Liana Lindsey), a teapot and cup respectively, they welcome the cold and frightened man to warm up with a cup of tea.
But Cogsworth’s fears are confirmed when “The Master” finds Maurice sitting in his chair. Beast (Matt Koenig), as he’s known, is the cursed prince, whose temper is as terrifying as his gnarled and hairy face. He throws Maurice into a dank dungeon for daring to trespass on his home.
When Belle learns of Maurice’s disappearance, she goes looking for him and finds herself at the threshold of the castle. This immediately throws the castle’s enchanted population into a tizzy. They know that the only hope for the curse to be lifted is if Beast finds true love. Belle, seemingly, is their only hope.
Beast doesn’t do much to endear himself to Belle when she finds her father locked in chains, with Beast unwilling to release him. She strikes a bargain with Beast and takes Maurice’s place as his prisoner.
If the rest of the story isn’t already familiar, I won’t spoil it for you here, but PCPA’s treatment of the tale is nothing short of spectacular. Beloved musical numbers from the classic film are done up with incredible work by the ensemble. Performances of the tavern song “Gaston” include impressive displays of choreography by Michael Jenkinson and associate choreographer Katie Wackowski that surpasses the scope of the film. Even the grandest of scenes, like “Be Our Guest,” are matched in magical spectacle.
Everything comes together in a powerful way under PCPA’s production of Beauty and the Beast, from the luscious music directed by Brad Carroll to the tight tailoring by costume designer Judith A. Ryerson. The set also comes across as a character itself thanks to the creative mind of scenic designer Jason Bolen. The unified sorcery of the show certainly comes down to its director, who’s also PCPA Artistic Director Mark Booher, who has remarked that this production surpasses PCPA’s last crack at the story in 2005. He’s right, but standing alone, this show is a masterful example of the world-class theater to be found right here on the Central Coast.
Arts Editor Joe Payne from New Times’ sister paper can’t stop whistling tunes from the show. Contact him at email@example.com.