“Be Our Guest” is by far the most famous and beloved song from the 1991 animated Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast.” With its singing candlesticks and dancing teapots extending hospitality to a young woman – “Try the gray stuff, it’s delicious!” – the scene is an exuberant example of Disney movie making at its best.
In bringing those twirling napkins and dancing dishes to life, the stage adaptation, which opened on Broadway in 1993, must find a way to capture that exuberance with actors decked out in unwieldy costumes.
And at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre on Thursday night, it was delightful to see the talented cast pull off that scene with nary a dancing spatula out of place. Director Lorna Hamilton and choreographer Kristi Mendoza keep all those plates in the air without crashing to the ground.
Written by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, “Beauty and the Beast” centers on a selfish prince who is cursed to live as a beast until he finds true love. The curse not only turned him into a monster, but his household staff became the objects of their profession. The castle maitre’d becomes Lumiere the candlestick (Benjamin Usher). The butler, Cogsworth (Jackson Bouchard), is a clock. Babette the housekeeper (Amy D’Orazi) is a feather duster, and the cook, Mrs. Potts (Callie McKinney Cabe) is a teapot. Her son, Chip (Ruby Krajic) is a teacup.
Meanwhile, Belle (Adelaide Turnage), a girl with a love for books and an adventurous spirit, lives with her inventor father, Maurice (Chuck Ethridge), and fends off the advances of the odious village jerk, Gaston (Jeremy Lynch). When Maurice gets lost in the woods, Belle goes in search of him, finding him held prisoner in the castle of the beast (Brandon Michael). She offers to stay if the beast lets her father go, and the beast agrees, much to the joy of his staff, who see her arrival as their last hope of breaking the spell.
What makes CST’s “Beauty and the Beast” soar is some delicious performances. As Lumiere, Usher shines (ha!), bringing a lot of je ne sais quoi and French oo la la to the stage. It’s a great role and Usher is clearly up to it. As Lumiere’s friend and foil Cogsworth, Bouchard is the epitome of the uptight butler. As Mrs. Potts, Cabe once again displays the talent that has made her a popular presence on local stages for years. Her performance of the show’s title song, “Beauty and the Beast” was awash in charm.
As Lefou, Gaston’s obsequious sidekick, David Eldridge is a wonder of slapstick and pratfalls. He’s kicked around, thrown against tables, knocked over and he keeps getting up again. He also shows his strong vocal skills in “Gaston” and “Maison de Lunes.”
But really, the story belongs to the main characters, Belle, the beast and Gaston. Lynch’s Gaston is deplorable, as he should be. A retrograde he-man of all brawn and very little brain, Gaston is a bully who resorts to violence when he doesn’t get his way. Lynch sneers his way through the performance like he was born to it. Vocally, he makes a good case for himself with compelling performances of “Gaston” and “Me.”
As Belle, Turnage is making her Coeur d’Alene debut and demonstrating a lovely voice and just the right about of pluck. Her singing throughout was quite good, and by “A Change in Me” midway through Act II, she clearly felt at home in the role.
The night, of course, belongs to the beast. Michael has become a reliable and enjoyable presence on local stages in recent years, and “Beauty and the Beast” is no exception. His voice shines, despite being buried under a bulky costume, in songs “Something There” and “If I Can’t Love Her.” It is one of the oddities of “Beauty and the Beast” that here aren’t most beastly songs, because I for one would loved to hear more from him.
As it is, however, “Beauty and the Beast” makes for a lively and entertaining night at the theater, and was a memorable start to Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s 52nd season.
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