You would be hard pressed to find an adult or child of a certain age not familiar with the tale of Beauty and the Beast. It would have been equally as difficult to find someone who did not leave the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines with a smile last week when the touring production played for eight performances. Though the show has visited Des Moines in the past, this revamped production introduced a new generation to the musical retelling of the story of Belle and Beast.
As many people know from the Disney film, Belle is forced to live in a castle under the control of the Beast, a prince transformed by a spell as a consequence for turning away a helpless old woman. Beast’s castle residence is home to talking household objects, once human servants, longing for the day when the Beast will learn to love so the spell on the castle will be broken and they can return to human form.
Of course, being the progeny of a hit Disney film is a double-edged sword. On one hand, name recognition draws crowds. On the other hand, those crowds come in with preconceived notions about what they will see. And therein lies one of the challenges facing the production. Audiences are very familiar with the story, the tone, and the music of Beauty and the Beast and yet the musical is best viewed as separate from the movie. If it is not viewed separately, many elements original to the stage production, the music in particular, will feel out of place.
Beauty and the Beast as a musical can succeed when viewed as its own creation. The only downfall is that some of the original music is not strong enough to feel right in the production. “Human Again,” which was originally written for the film, feels repetitive and illustrates a possible reason it was cut from the movie. “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” were lengthened to allow for dance sequences that unfortunately went on too long. While the ensemble cast did an excellent job handling the intricacies of the clinking cups in “Gaston,” there came a point at which the level of difficulty had reached its peak and the sequence should have ended on that high note. Thankfully, the director and producers have left the heart of the story intact and the lesson of looking beyond appearances is one that must continue to be told.
The brightest part of the production was the performers, all of which handled the material beautifully. Hilary Maiberger, as Belle, carried the show with her big expressive eyes and immense smile that is eerily similar to her animated counterpart. Not only did she look the part, but her voice was clear and strong and the performance was spot on. Hassan Nazari-Robati , as Lumiere, expertly handled the task of being both comic relief and a sort of master of ceremonies. And while Nazari-Robati led “Be Our Guest” it was also the number in which the rest of the ensemble shone brightest, both because of the skill required for the choreography and the gilded costumes. Darick Pead, as Beast, had the difficult task of emoting and winning over the audience without the benefit of facial expressions. Even through all of the hair, make-up, and fur Pead was up to the challenge.
Beauty and the Beast is truly a tale of transformation. Not only is there a transformation from human to beast and back again, but both Belle and Beast evolve into people who recognize that they deserve to be happy. By all accounts, Beauty and the Beast was entirely successful at what it set out to do. The show was big, bright and full of heart. Beauty and the Beast is a sure fire hit for young, old, and young at heart.
Photos: Joan Marcus