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Beauty and the Beast visits South Bend

Tessa DeMers | Monday, December 5, 2011

The Morris Performing Arts Center played home to the national Broadway tour of the Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast” over the weekend. Upon stepping inside the theatre, the audience was transported to a land where anything could happen. The stage was decorated with beautiful intertwined flowers and vines forming patterns of gold, pink and teal, getting people in the mood to experience magic.

The transformation from animated movie to live musical could have been a tough one. There are a lot of things made possible in drawings that are not possible in real life. However, the team who produced this musical came together and created a show that effectively portrayed the magic of the original film.

In a tactful and ingenious tweak, the show had servants gradually transform into household items rather than begin as them. If they did not break the spell, they would transform completely and be stuck like that. A big fuss was made, for example, when Cogsworth (the clock character) grew a winding mechanism on his back.

The costumes were absolutely spectacular. The costume designer, Ann Hould-Ward, won a Tony for her work in this show.

Theatre, unlike film – animated or otherwise – has to worry about moving sets. In movies, shots simply cut from scene to scene, but in theatre, stagehands have to manually move pieces. In this show, gargoyles moved the sets. Although it took a while for me to realize they were gargoyles and not strange demons, having them move the sets and then positioning themselves in the scene was an innovative idea.

In the Broadway musical version, new songs were added to those from the 1991 film to bring about a more dynamic storyline and, of course, to make it more of a musical. In one of the new songs, “Me,” Gaston proposes to Belle and brags wildly about himself (what else is new?).

Another new song was “Home,” sung while Belle was first trapped in the Beast’s castle wondering if the horrible place would become her new home.

The Beast has two new songs, “How Long Must This Go On” and “If I Can’t Love Her” that bring a greater depth to the suffering of his character and demonstrate how far he had come since his transformation.

The final additional song, “Human Again,” expressed the hopes of the servants that the spell would break and they could experience being human again. The new songs by Alan Menken, who wrote the music in the movie as well, blended fantastically with the classic songs.

Another addition to the show was dance. Anyone close to musical theatre types knows how much they enjoy a good dance break. My favorite in this production was the one during “Gaston,” when Lefou pumped up Gaston’s ego. There was a remarkable bit of stage business involved in the choreography of this number, with the dancers finding new ways to clink together beer mugs in the tavern while forming a visually exciting array of lines and levels.

Almost as unforgettable was the legendary piece “Be Our Guest,” which dazzled the audience with an acrobatic rug, twinkling, glitter and plates that popped into top hats.

The musical also went beyond the film by delving into the inner monologues of both the Beast and his servants. The audience of course feels sorry for the Beast and his servants and wishes them success while watching the movie.

In this live production, however, audiences really understand the terror of the servants as their transformations progress.  They also see the utter hopelessness the Beast feels when he lets Belle go free and the Beast’s desperate longing to show Belle he cares for her.

The actors in this touring company were all fantastic, but one in particular stood out. Andrew Kruep played the lovable, dimwitted character of Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick. Kruep was perfect for the role. With his cartoony antics, comedic falling and adorable smile, he stole the show.

Overall, “Beauty and the Beast” at the Morris was amazing. The showstoppers were exactly that and the actors were phenomenal. Confetti and glitter were everywhere. What more could someone want?

“Beauty and the Beast” is a classic that will fill our hearts with hope and happiness, whether told as a movie or musical. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme — the song got it right.