In a new production ably directed by Marybeth Clark, the long-running Broadway musical, which is inspired by one of Disney’s most treasured cinematic gems, promises ample song, story, and spectacle as smart women save imperiled men, hunks are lampooned and their toxic masculinity chucked over the ledge, and misguided curmudgeons with good hearts and unmanageable back hair get the girl.
To gauge the show’s family-friendliness, I enlisted Beatrice, my five-year-old daughter and go-to co-critic, who joined me complete with her own pen and pad. And while the Beast famously sequesters Belle in an enchanted castle, Beatrice generally takes no prisoners in her viewing assessments, at times even wielding the iconic thumbs-up-thumbs-down gesture when surfing the Disney Channel.
Due to my age and hers, Beatrice and I both missed out on that game-changing moment in time when the 1991 Disney film transfixed Millennials by fashioning an unprecedented brunette, bookworm of a heroine in a helluva yellow getup. (We’ve made up for that mutual lapse of late with numerous viewings, and one of us has the tricked-out lemony confection of a gown to prove it).
True to the film, the stage production features all of its eight songs, among them hits like "Belle," "Be Our Guest," and "Beauty and the Beast," which were composed and written by Alan Menken with Howard Ashman to such success the tunes helped fast track the transfer from screen to stage. For the stage, Menken teamed up with Tim Rice to create six more, which serve to create transitions and also to develop character.
As Belle's fearsome, fur-some Beast, Patrick Brett sings a stirring rendition of "If I Can't Love Her," serving to soften the growl and ensure the audience gets to the heart of the matter of why Belle ultimately opts for her gruff captor. Conversely, "Me" dances intentionally and entertainingly on the surface, having a chuckle-worthy go at the utter lack of depth of Belle’s would-be suitor Gaston, aided by good vocals and a gamely meat-headed characterization by Brian Nabors.
Of course, the main event is Belle, and Hayley Denton-Hughes plays up the smarts and stridency of this famously unflinching young woman with serious purpose and serious pipes. It’s the voice that renders this Belle resonant, with equal parts beauty and strength, as befits the role. That gorgeousness was not lost on Beatrice, either, who both perked up and melted at Belle’s first note, scribbling intently about how much she liked her.
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- Photos by Charleston Image Works / Chris Rogers
The beautiful and the beastly are large and in charge with the dazzling production values, too, evident at the get-go in an outsize stained glass rose framed by elegant hands on left and gnarled claws on right. A backlit rose tops off the frame, intermittently darkening when another, fateful petal falls. And, as the show unfolds, we’re treated to increasing eye candy — pink- and gold-infused pageantry — as humans-turned-household objects take the stage.
The beastly is represented by the daunting task of Charleston Stage to squeeze all that palatial, built-for-Broadway spectacle into the modest confines of the Dock Street. But they work diligently to tame it, gamely maximizing the space by way of a double staircase that elevates scenes and offers levels of action.
This effusion is set to music by a terrific five-piece ensemble led by conductor Sam Henderson, which features Christian Zamora on violin; Kyle Lane on trumpet; Debra Sherrill on French horn; Michael Haldeman on percussion; and Arnold Gottlieb on synthesizer. After all, while we certainly marveled at the beauty on display before us, it is the music that is at the heart of this show — and that is a beautiful thing.