Beast’s beauty abridged

Beauty and the Beast Junior (Rivermount College)

Rivermount College, Colin Young Community Centre

July 14 – 16

Rivermount College’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast Junior” is a reminder of all the colour, movement and energy that make Disney musicals so enchanting. So taut is its direction under Allison Fair, however, that it is difficult to remember how the junior edition of the popular musical has been abridged, even having experienced the complete version many times.

Good use is made of the Colin Young Community Centre stage, in the tale’s tell of transformation and tolerance, especially in terms of the big ensemble numbers, though things begin quietly as, in prologue upon the stage’s apron the kind and curious Belle (Annabelle Ross) tells of her yearning for more, (‘Belle’) in introduction of the sameness of each day’s life in her small-minded provincial town. Staging is appropriately simple but versatile, with the glass-encased enchanted rose mystical flower (that has since become the original 1991 animated movie and subsequent 1994 musical’s symbol) featuring front of stage throughout.

Ten years prior to the story’s start, the single rose was offered by an enchantresses seeking shelter in a young, spoiled prince’s castle. Rejected due to her appearance, she suggested that true beauty lies within, before turning the prince into the hideous beast of the musical’s title, with warning that the only way to break the spell is to learn to love another and earn her love in return by the time the last petal falls. That another is of course Belle.

What brings the titular characters together is the disappearance of Belle’s inventor-father, Maurice (Hayden Stork). This, and Belle’s brave of the wolf-filled woods in order to save him, also allows for some of the show’s richness, with green lighting (lighting design by Darryn Swaby and Daniel Wright) menacing character journeys, whether they be on way to, or in Belle’s subsequent escape from imprisonment at the Beast’s (Riku Silling) castle of cursed occupants.

Lead roles are all well-cast and performers do well to maintain their composure through many unfortunate microphone issues and missed sound cues. Ross is poised as the beautiful Belle, spirited with imagination but also determined to live in a world full of adventure. And her vocals are of a beauty befitting the show’s many gorgeous musical numbers (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice). This is especially evident in the lovely ‘Something There’, in which, having been rescued by him while attempting to flee from her castle captivity, Belle notes a change in the Beast’s personality, as also observed by the hopeful-of-being-human-again servants. Indeed, her tender touch evokes her sections of the song with an empathy towards his essential loneliness that accentuates it as the story’s turning point.

Silling matches this by giving the Beast an increasing softness as he tries to become a gentleman, no easy feat for a character so initially savage in his determination to punish his trespassers and unable to control his temper. It is Asher Emery, however, who truly shines as the village’s handsome but egotistical jerk Gaston, determined to marry Belle no matter what it takes.With Linda Woolverton’s book featuring puns aplenty and occasional dialogue directly to the audience, there is a real pantomime feel to this show, thanks in part of Emery’s stage presence, which immediately endears him to the audience. His strong vocals suit his character’s matinee-idol assuredness and his timing within dialogue delivery uses pace, pause, emphasis and trail aways to add much to characterisation, with younger audience members especially loving his lead of the servants and villagers’ attempted castle take-over. Along with bumbling sidekick LeFou (a confident Maya Barclay Ford), he gives us some of the show’s early comic highlights.

Later memorable moments come from the Beast’s servants in suffrage as animated objects. As the suave and debonair castle maître d’ (now candlestick) Lumiere, Sienna Barney maintains accent throughout, even in lead of the ensemble cabaret number ‘Be Our Guest’, working well in balance alongside the fusspot energy of Summer Palanca as the dignified household head (and now pendulum clock) Cogsworth. And Myshah Ali is a standout as the nurturing Mrs Potts, former head of the kitchen and now teapot. Her tottering, ‘pish posh’ dismissals and ‘my dear reassurances’ are accompanied by a committed physicality that draws attention to her ever appearance on stage (#inagoodway).

When it took to Broadway in 1994, “Beauty and the Beast” was a spectacle the likes of which had never before been seen on stage and even in its Junior version, it is easy to appreciate how, since then, it has played more performances than the four longest-running Broadway shows combined. “Beauty and the Beast Junior” is delightful entertainment for audience members of all ages especially in its magical enlivenment of everyday times. Costumes (designed and supplied by the All Saints Anglican School production of “Beauty and the Beast”) are wonderful, beyond just the iconic golden gown and blue coat of its protagonists.

Melissa Koch’s choreography (additional choreography by Gayle Lock) is similarly effective. While ‘Be Our Guest’, where the servants offer Belle dinner (and a show) despite their master’s orders, is a highlight big ensemble number, as always, with dancing utensils and even a cheese grater, it is ‘Gaston’ that shines the brightest. The song, in which LeFou and the village’s tavern patrons attempt to cheer up a sulking Gaston, who is miserable at the loss of a bride, is simple but perfectly synced in its choreography of intertwined beer steins and table thumping. It is clearly a joyous experience for all and also a fitting summary of the spirit of this outstanding reminder of the bold characters, unforgettable music and charming humour that has made the musical a long-time audience favourite.  

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