Sunday, November 20, 2005

Afternoon with Belle at the Boiler Room


Seeing that I am a noted crazy Disney-phile, and that I have a young Disney Princess-fixated daughter, I thought that a visit to the Boiler Room Theatre's performance of Disney's Beauty and the Beast would be a good idea. After seeing the Broadway version of this play, as well as upteen-million viewings of the Best Picture-nominated feature film, I figured this would be a nice diversion, albeit lower scale than the two mentioned productions. A small skimpy production, probably with a small budget, in a small (120 seat) theatre. Boy, was I wrong.

If you hadn't already heard, Disney is licensing out rights to produce Disney-fied versions of Beauty and the Beast to local and regional theatres. Boiler Room in Franklin is the second theatre in Tennessee to adapt the Broadway show to a small stage.

First, the production... Very detailed sets permiate this show. From the beautifully rendered village buildings used for "Belle" among other numbers; to the interiors of the castle that rotate from the village set and break down to sets for the library, bedroom, dungeon and west wing; and the nooks that represent Gaston and Belle's hangouts, I wonder how they made this all happen on what had to be a tight budget. They really took advantage of every open space on their tiny stage to bring this production home. After seeing the outstanding work that the national folks did with their large amount of real estate, I think I came away even more impressed with what this group did with much, much less. Very nicely done.

The costumes were also very well conceived. Over 125 original costumes were developed for this production, with many faithfully rendered as real-life counterparts to the ones in the movie. The Beast and the other Enchanted Objects were obviously the biggest challenges, and they really came off with nary a hitch. Beast's face work was very well conceived, yet gave a lot of room for the actor to emote. Lumiere and Cogsworth were very detailed and looked very nice, with Lumiere's lighting wicks and Cogsworth's pendulum nicely executed. Chip was set to as good a scale as could be expected, with the child's head encased with a cup headdress and his body hidden in a rolling tea cart. Belle's gowns and Gaston's outfit were both faithfully rendered as well.

Enough of the technical details... on with the acting! Laura Thomas carried the role of Belle with a beautiful and powerful voice. Dan Whorton played the Beast with a great deal of human emotion under the mask. Both carried their lead roles with professionalism and strength.

In my opinion, though, Erik Garcia and Joseph Beuerlein stole the show with their portrayals of Gaston and Lumiere respectively. Gaston came off with all of the smarmy cockiness that the role needs, and Garcia more than held his own in singing my two favorite numbers, "Gaston" and "Me." Lumiere's character over-delivers the suave to great effect and, of course, heads up the "Be Our Guest" number that is present in all of the Disney versions.

The dance numbers deliver a great deal of excitement in the show. The cup-clanging dance number in "Gaston" makes a lively appearance direct from the Broadway show. "Be Our Guest" is the most scaled back from the other productions, as they obviously cannot muster the special effects that the movie or big budget production can deliver. The "Beauty and the Beast" dance sequence also gets some scaling back due to stage space, but is still very effective in delivering us to Belle and Beast's growing attachment and eventual separation. Kudos to coreographer Lauri Bright for delivering in these and other numbers.

The songs were also well played here. From the initial "Belle" to the "Mob Song," all of the favorites are there. The stage production adds several new songs that are very effectively weaved into the plot. Those watching the "Special Edition" DVD will recognize "Human Again," while Maurice even gets a song with "No Matter What." The additions with the biggest impact, though, are the Beast's "If I Can't Love Her" and Belle's "Home." These two songs become the new main songs for me, relaying the feelings of the main characters in a way not done in the original feature.

If you've only seen the movie and not the theatrical production, you have missed out on the new twists that Linda Woolverton added to the story. The characters have been given more depth: this Beast seems at the same time more menacing and more fragile; Belle here is very headstrong about her desire to escape, finds that her confinement leads to a contentment with what she has at home; and the Enchanted Objects are no longer statically enchanted, but instead are gradually becoming these things, leading to their portrayal as desperate people driven to desperate measures to keep themselves from fully transforming (as the kitchen wall, among others, has already done). It's a great added touch that adds so much more to this story. Also added is a separate sub-story about Beast's lack of education, which becomes key to the growing closeness of the main characters, as Belle takes it upon herself to open the Beast's eyes to what he has missed related to letting books transport him outside of his tortured existance.

I'm not a theatrical reviewer (and don't play one on TV), so I don't expect this review to capture the technical nuance that a trained professional may pen. But, I am an experienced Disney addict and have long called "Beauty and the Beast" one of my favorites (Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, and Fantasia are my others, for those keeping score). I came into this production not expecting a lot, other than to give my daughter a nice afternoon out. What I came out with, though, was an appreciation for a thoroughly entertaining production. I've seen the Broadway show, and this one held it's own quite nicely, albeit at a much smaller scale.

Plus... my daughter may have gotten inspired to give acting a go, and she got a hug from Belle... What more could you ask for?

Update (11/29/05 1:30pm): The Tennessean has posted a nice slideshow of Dan Whorton's transformation to the Beast. Whorton goes through one hour of makeup application prior to every performance. (Photo credit: Steven S. Harman of the Tennessean)

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