By LINDA BILLINGTON
The transformative power of love can overcome adversity, prejudice and even a midwinter snowstorm. Example: the packed Atwood Concert Hall Thursday, opening night of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Considering that a new 3D version of the 1991 Disney film just debuted in movie theaters Friday, it’s especially encouraging to realize that a couple thousand hardy Alaskans willingly made the effort to see actual people perform.
The live show, with a few changes and some new songs, follows the film’s plot: A spoiled, self-centered prince is cursed to become a Beast until he can learn to love. Meanwhile, the beautiful, bookish Belle yearns for adventures beyond her insular French village. After her inventor father is captured by the Beast, Belle volunteers to trade her freedom for his. Over time, she and the Beast grow to know, and to love, each other – and the spell is broken, turning the Beast back into a hunky prince.
The touring company brought here by the Anchorage Concert Association mounts a gorgeous production, combining excellent singing voices with broad humor cleverly choreographed dances and even some genuinely moving moments.
On opening night, the performers were in fine fettle. Emily Behny’s Belle combined sweetness and sass. Dane Agostinis’ Beast was suitably anguished, angry and amusingly clumsy as he tried to show Belle that he did indeed have a better side. (His attempts to say “please” can best be described as tortured.)
In addition to the leads, a standout in the cast was Logan Denninghoff as Gaston, the egocentric hunter who wants Belle for himself. Denninghoff – boasting a black pompadour that wouldn’t be amiss on the skull of an Elvis impersonator or a TV evangelist — had the audience laughing from the start as he strutted and preened.
The real stars of this stage production, though, are the offstage wizards who created the glorious sets and the amusing costumes.
The sets overlay rolling pieces with painted and decorated scrims to create settings of great depth and beauty. The opening scene seems wreathed in an ancient tapestry; the interior of the Beast’s castle appears to have grown from interlocking, artistically formed foliage.
Clever costumes turn the Beast’s retainers, who, like their master, are cursed, into household appliances and furniture. The clock, Cogsworth (James May), dangles a pendulum instead of a necktie; Lumiere the candlestick (Michael Haller) sports candles for hands; Mrs. Potts the teapot (Julia Louise Hosack) has a round-bellied skirt and an arm permanently fixed into a curved spout.
Howard Ashman’s and Tim Rice’s lyrics and Alan Menken’s tunes are backed by an 11-member ensemble. Not all the numbers are memorable, but highlights include the comic boastfulness of “Gaston,” the rollicking “Be Our Guest” (complete with dancing plates a la Busby Berkeley) and the Beast’s tortured lament “If I Can’t Love Her.”
“Beauty and the Beast” is of course a show for all ages, so some younger members of Thursday’s audience didn’t always sit quietly in polite appreciation. A number provided their own sound effects, the occasional baby protested and one young girl in our row was in constant motion from the Overture through the curtain call. So if you go, don’t expect symphony-crowd decorum.
To sum up, “Beauty and the Beast” is a treat for the eyes and ears. Watching talented performers on a gorgeous set singing enjoyable songs accompanied by able musicians – well, that’s as good a reason as any to brave the cold in exchange for warm fuzzies in the theater.
DISNEY’S “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, 10 a.m., 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday , 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and at 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21. Tickets are $60-$84 at centertix.net. The Anchorage Concert Association says that over 25,000 tickets have been sold and availability is limited next weekend. The best chance for seats will be Sunday-Thursday.
Playwright and actor Linda Billington is a copy editor at the Anchorage Daily News.