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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Majestic 'Beauty and the Beast" at the Hippodrome

No matter our age, we can all enjoy a good fairy tale with a happy ending to brighten our lives.  Pleasantly, the touring production of Beauty and the Beast produced by NETworks Presentations that is making a brief stop at the Hippodrome Theatre fits that bill.

Brooke Quintana as Belle and Sam Hartley as the Beast
Photo: Matthew Murphy
In its ninth month on tour, the production, for the most part, gets it right.  Beauty and the Beast delivers a majestic spectacle of superb music (directed by Kevin Francis Finn) that is performed by strong vocals and dazzling, high tempo dancing choreographed by Matt West. 
Combine that with an imaginative striking set by Stanley A. Taylor, brilliant costumes by Tony Award winner Ann Hould-Ward (for Beauty and the Beast) that include some 580 costume pieces from wolves to silverware, effective hue-rich lighting design by Natasha Katz, precise staging, and fine performances by an energetic talented cast under the meticulous direction of Rob Roth and you have a winner.   #hocoarts

Mr. Taylor’s scenery is exquisite in its creativity and design.  With many pieces in use like the houses in the Bavarian-like town, scenes change seamlessly throughout.  This excellence in the staging is a hallmark of the show.
The one flaw is that the orchestration was over-amplified on opening night and at times drowned out the vocals and dialogue.  This was most noticeable at the outset when the Prologue overwhelmed the narrator who set the premise for the tale.  Hopefully, this blip will be resolved as the run continues.

Aside from that quibble, the production excels on many fronts.  The musical, which was based on the animated feature film with the same name and became the ninth longest ever running musical on Broadway, features the Oscar-winning score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, with additional songs composed by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice. The book is written by Linda Woolverton.
Show-stopping production numbers, such as “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” showcasing the singing and dancing talents of the ensemble are audience pleasers to be sure.  Yet, it is the fairy tale itself that sweeps you away on an emotional and romantic journey.  

The story of a spoiled prince who had been transformed by an enchantress into a boorish, hot-tempered beast until he can find love and return to his human form before petals fall off from an eternal rose given by the enchantress and a beautiful woman Belle from a provincial town is tender and endearing.  This relationship has the audience rooting hard for both.  Also pushing hard for the couple to fall in love are various servants in the prince’s castle who were converted into household objects when the spell was cast on the prince.  They, too, have a stake in the spell being removed.
Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek as Gaston (c) and Ensemble
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Simultaneously, the town’s egomaniacal, bicep-flexing, bully, Gaston, rejected by Belle to be his wife, strives to make her change her mind. 
Lovely Brooke Quintana as Belle shines throughout.  Considered “weird” by the townsfolk because of her passion for books, Belle is strong-minded, and her eventual attraction to the beast that requires his becoming more gentlemanly for starters is tearful in its sweetness.   Ms. Quintana’s vocal prowess is evidenced in the ballads “Belle,” “Home” and “A Change in Me.”
For his part, Sam Hartley as the Beast is also effective.  He is called upon to be mean and demanding, and his on-stage transformation back to being human at the show’s end with the ingenious use of lighting techniques is spectacular.  Mr. Hartley’s pleasant baritone is evident in “How Long Must This Go On?” and “If I Can’t Love Her.”

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek romps through his role as the superior, perfect-looking God’s gift to the world, Gaston.  His character, though an antagonist, provides most of the comic relief throughout because of his over-the-top self-centeredness with the amusing help from Matt Dasilva as Lefou, Gaston’s goofy, ever-fawning sidekick.  Mr. Smith-Kotlarek’s commanding baritone in “Me,” “Gaston” and “The Mob Song” is on display.
As mentioned earlier, the Beast’s staff had been turned into such objects as a teapot (Mrs. Potts played by Stephanie Gray).  Her rendition of the title song was performed sweetly.  Other characters in this group include Cogsworth, the clock (Samuel Shurtleff); Babette, the feather duster (Melissa Jones); Lumiere, the candelabra (Ryan N. Phillips; Madame de la Grande Bouche, the wardrobe (Stephanie Harter Gilmore); and Chip, the cup (Jake Jones in this performance).  All did well in their mostly comic roles as foils to the Beast.

Also, turning in a solid performance is Thomas Mothershed as Maurice, Belle’s inventor-father.

The Hippodrome mounting of Beauty and the Best proves why the musical has received such worldwide popularity.  It has everything one needs to be entertained including a feel-good story line that will warm your heart.  Bring the kids, too; they’ll love it. But hurry.
Running time. Two hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

Beauty and the Beast runs through May 15 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit Ticketmaster or the Hippodrome.

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