Disney’s ‘Beast’ makes a joyous return to NSMT
BEVERLY – When the Walt Disney Company decided to re-purpose its successful animated features for the stage, it was the theatrical equivalent of a baseball player starting his at-bat with a 3-0 count
Disney’s 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast” has grossed $425 worldwide and won two Oscars and a Golden Globe while the recent live film remake grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
And when Disney unveiled its stage version of “Beauty and the Beast” in 1994, it went on to become the 10th-longest-running show in Broadway history
First performed at the theater in 2004, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” has made a joyous return, taking over the North Shore Music Theatre’s traditional family slot through July 30, and it again showcases the same qualities that made for a long Broadway run and many successful regional productions: a winning book by Linda Woolverton, a superb score, and production numbers that show off Disney’s trademark creativity and imagination.
The stage musical started with the Oscar-winning score by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman from the animated movie, with additional songs from Menken and Tim Rice for the stage version that are also quite fine, including “Human Again” and “Home.”
Beautiful young Belle (Rose Hemingway) lives in a small French town with her father Maurice and is a bit of an outsider, wrapped up as she is in her books.
What she isn’t wrapped up in is the village strongman, Gaston. Taylor Crousure is a less physically imposing Gaston than you usually see in the part, but he does effectively convey the character’s monstrous ego and dubious intellectual capacity and puts across the musical numbers “Me” and “Gaston.”
Andrew Kruep has the requisite touch for slapstick and physical comedy as Gaston’s hapless follower Lefou.
The very petite Hemingway appears to be every bit a Disney Princess, even if she isn’t actually a princess, and sings and moves beautifully.
As Maurice, Belle’s somewhat addled but loving father, David Coffee does his usual strong work, already having shown the good sense to leave the Texas heat for Cape Ann and his 24th season and 54th production at NSMT, where he’ll again star as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” in December.
Trouble ensues when Belle goes off to rescue Maurice in the woods, and after being pursued by wolves, she runs into the castle where Maurice is being held prisoner.
The castle is ruled by a Beast (Stephen Cerf) who had once been a handsome prince, but had been put under the spell of an enchantress after he sent away a poor woman seeking shelter from the cold. Meanwhile, the prince’s servants have been turned into household objects as part of the spell.
Benjamin Howes delighted NSMT audiences as Lord Farquaad in 2015’s “Shrek”and here he returns as Lumiere, the servant turned candelabra. In the mournful “Human Again,” he sings about breaking the spell so he can resume chasing the ladies, and he is also at the center of the play’s most spectacular production number, a joyous rendition of “Be Our Guest.”
The imperious head of the household, Cogsworth (Phillip Taratula), is distressed to find the wind-up stem in his back is the latest reminder that he might be turned into a timepiece forever.
Christiane Noll is just right as the amiable Mrs. Potts, the teapot accompanied by son Chip, performed by promising young actor Ben Choi-Haris. Noll has the pleasure of performing the Oscar-winning “Beauty and the Beast,” while Ryah Nixon and Joy Hermalyn provide some sharp comic stylings as, respectively, a flirty French featherduster named Babette and the opera-singing dresser Madame de la Grande Bouche.
Stephen Cerf as The Beast has the show’s toughest role, morphing from monster to a warm, fuzzy friend, showing both vulnerability and confusion as he struggles to profess his love for Belle and be loved back, the only thing that can break the spell.
Choreographer Lisa Shriver skillfully adapts the production numbers for NSMT’s in-the-round theater and director Michael Hertzman builds on a reputation at the theater that includes sterling productions of “Shrek” and “The Little Mermaid.”
At a recent performance, it was heartening to not only see the seniors who favor matinees but the large number of what North Shore owner Bill Hanney described hopefully as “young future subscribers.”
The show proved children can be away from their video games and cellphones for an extended period, sit still and pay attention to what’s in front of them and appreciate it. It helps immeasurably that what they’re paying attention to is both live theater and a production worthy of their attention.
The North Shore Music Theatre production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” Originally directed by Robert Jess Roth and produced by Disney Theatrical Productions. Book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Directed by Michael Hertzman. Choreographed by Linda Shriver. At the North Shore Music Theatre through July 30. nsmt.org