Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Pioneer Theatre

December, 2004 / 2005

Kraig Swartz, Mark Light-Orr, Jeremy Stolle and Company

“Sure, there’s a classic girl-tames-beast story at the heart of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” Pioneer Theatre Company’s holiday offering.  But this is a production that delivers the magic of something even more enduring: the romance of theatrical storytelling.

“Here you’ll find the satisfying spectacle that keeps us coming back to darkened rooms in the company of strangers.  What works so effectively in this production of the Broadway musical, remounted for the second year by PTC, is the sum of its parts.  Imaginative sets and inventive costumes offer a magical backdrop for uniformly strong lead actors, all topped by the exuberant dancing and singing of an engaging, enchanting ensemble, and a musical score that unselfishly passes around scene-stealing moments among the large cast.

“Elizabeth Stanley offers a winning performance as Belle, particularly in her rock-the-rafters vocals of “A Change in Me,” her character’s eleven o’clock number near the play’s close. . .  [and] as she begins to tame the physicality of Gregg Goodbrod’s angry, emotionally hesitant Beast.

“. . . the ensemble cast is uniformly winning; rarely do regionally produced musicals offer such feasts as “Gaston,” a rhyming ditty set in the town tavern proclaiming the attributes of the handsome town bully.  And as a bully, Jeremy Stolle is a commanding physical presence, successfully employing the wooden movements and frozen expressions of an animated character, ably side-kicked by Kraig Swartz’s comedic LeFou.

“But nothing, not the fantasy set of the wrought-iron, movable staircase of the castle or a forest backdrop that evokes Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are illustrations, trumps the pleasing visual spectacle of the first act’s big-ticket number, “Be Our Guest.”  The witty song-and-dance extravaganza performed by an ensemble of lively household ‘knickknocks and what-nots’ is simply over-the-top enchanting, and serves as a setup for a charming fight scene at play’s end.

“The play wraps up to a satisfying, starry-sky close with some classic stage business, including the expected transformation from Beast to Prince of a Man aided by the visual mists of theatrical fog.  It’s a trick as familiar as the musical’s storyline, and just as romantic as a candle holder running off with a maid.”

    Ellen Fagg

    The Salt Lake Tribune (2005)

“Jazzy staging, scenery straight out of a fairytale—and a Gaston with a jutting jaw.  There’s much to be said for Pioneer Memorial Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast.

“If you saw Beauty and the Beast last year, you may be wondering whether to see it a second time.  Well, if you’re looking for something new, you’ll be disappointed.  But if you love a classic, you could see this show again and find yourself sad that it won’t be coming back next year as well.”

“You’ll find enough different themes in the script to give you something new to think about.  If you pondered the ‘don’t judge-by-looks’ part before, this time you can wonder why we humans have such a hard time changing. Or the folly of pride.  Or how romantic it always is when people who thought they hated each other are actually in love.”

    Susan Whitney

    Deseret Morning News (2005)

“Pioneer Theatre Company's production of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" charms the eye again and again. Its theme of looking beyond appearances and narrow judgments is timeless. It is a beautiful show. . .  families will love the color and swirl of this gigantic spectacle.

“Huge resources were marshaled to make "Beauty" look fabulous. Sets by George Maxwell draw us into a fantasy world of quaint landscapes and dark enchantment. An imposing castle - home of the Beast - revolves to create multiple locations, and looks bewitching from any angle. Susan Branch, who already created some of the best costume designs seen at PTC, works spells of her own in turning humans into bewitched household objects.

“With its big cast, multiple special effects and giant technical demands, keeping this show running smoothly is a beast of a job.  . . .the technical side of the show is fantastic. . . the dramatic aspects succeed just as well - a tribute to director Paul Barnes and everyone involved.

“The wonders of "Beauty and the Beast" are more than enough to overcome its blemishes. The heart of the story is about two outsiders who make each other a little more human, and fall sweetly in love in the process. No matter how well you know the tale, it still satisfies.”

    Celia Barker

    The Salt Lake Tribune (2004)

“Pioneer Theatre Company, in its regional premiere of this Disney Broadway blockbuster, kicks ‘pulling out all the stops’ to a whole new level.

“From a stellar cast to George Maxwell's fanciful, storybook setting to Susan Branch's sumptuous costuming to guest director Paul Barnes' seamless pacing to choreographer Jayne Luke's energetic dance segments — this "beauty" of a show will keep youngsters as enthralled as their parents. It may be "a tale as old as time," but Pioneer's spectacular staging is fresh and inventive.

“To borrow a bit of dialogue from Madame de la Grande Bouche (Anne Stewart Mark in yet another show-stopping performance), this is definitely "top drawer."

Both Belle (the "beauty") and the Beast have Broadway credits.

“Laura Griffith's strong, well-trained voice soars and soothes. Her transformation from village girl to queen of the castle is magical.

“Likewise, Gregg Goodbrod — as a handsome young prince who is the victim of a dark spell that turned him into a terrifying creature — delivers an intense performance as the Beast. He must undergo a change of heart before he can change his outward appearance.

“The ensemble is packed with noteworthy players — Jeremy Stolle as the villainous Gaston, Kraig Swartz as his rambunctious sidekick, Lefou and Herman Petras as Belle's lovable father, Maurice.

“The villagers are one thing — the folks in the castle are something else.

Max Robinson chimes in with yet another timeless performance as Cogsworth, the clock, with Dirk Lumbard as the romantic Lumiere, Susan Bigelow as Mrs. Potts, Kooper Campbell as Chip and Michelle Lookadoo as Babette, the saucy French maid.

“The show's big production numbers fill the stage. The most spectacular is "Be Our Guest," a veritable parade of dancing, prancing cutlery and dishes, but running a close second is Gaston's wild and woolly tavern scene.

“There were quite a few children in the audience on opening night, but the only time they were fidgeting was waiting for the show to start.”

    Ivan M. Lincoln

    Deseret Morning News (2004)


What I learned. . .

Chuck Morey’s offer to direct the first west-of-the-Hudson River production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Pioneer Theatre Company came as a surprise, but one I quickly embraced. The idea seemed thrilling, though I was only familiar with the original, full-length animated feature (which I loved), and had only heard stories of the Broadway stage adaptation.  Not long after accepting the assignment, I found myself in New York City; a friend of a friend was on for Mrs. Potts one of the nights I was in town, and I snagged a ticket to the long-running B’way hit. Frankly, I was appalled. Not by my friend’s friend’s performance, but by the encrustation of the Broadway production. Everything seemed so layered. . . so heavy. . .  so weighted.  I couldn’t find the story underneath the layers of gilt and gauze.  I came away unnerved and thoughtful, but not undaunted.

As with so much at PTC, the company really put its muscle into the production.

Known for its high level production values, Chuck, Chris Lino (Managing Director), Dave Deike (Produciton Manager), and Carol Wells Day (Costume Shop Director) began committing resources early on.  I passed through Salt Lake City some time in August that year, months before we were to begin rehearsals, and already crafts people had been hired to begin foam-carving candlesticks, plates, cutlery, and all of the out-of-this-world imaginative objects, properties, and settings designers George Maxwell (sets) and Susan Branch Towne (costumes) had envisioned for the production.  “Santa’s workshop,” as I came to think of it, kept expanding through the pre-rehearsal months, with much getting accomplished before the actors arrived to begin work. The pay-off of planning and hiring skilled people to execute the designs was enormous: Beauty and the Beast turned out to be exactly the extravagant feast for the senses it needs to be, though I believe our production was scaled more humanly than what I had experienced in New York.

My respect for the material increased the more I dug into prep work and continued to grow once we began rehearsals.  The score is fabulous: witty, tuneful, beautiful, zesty, and moving.  But Linda Wolverton’s book is a wonder in and of itself: concise, clever, well connected, and beautifully constructed, and my appreciation for her authorship only increased as opening night neared – and as I returned a year later for the 2005 PTC remount.  Because we were the first production west of the Hudson River, there was much interest when we auditioned actors, both in Salt Lake and NYC, and I was fortunate to get to work with a panoply of musical theatre pros in both outings, leading actors and ensemble players alike.  I know I learned as much from them – if not more – as they may have learned from me (though once again, my Shakespeare training served me well: traffic control and thinking about what’s so important that a character’s only choice is to sing, dance, or speak verse come naturally to a director fortunate enough to have worked on productions of Shakespeare’s plays).

Directing plays like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast brings with it a very specific reward beyond the sheer challenge of tackling and conquering something of its size.  It’s a play that introduces children to live theatre.  Watching the number of little girls coming to performances dressed in their yellow “Belle” dresses was sweet, funny, and touching.  It reminded me of seeing kids trying to imitate Peter, Wendy, Michael, and John’s flight to Neverland during intermission of productions of Peter Pan I’ve directed over the years.  Touching and engaging the child spirit in all of us is, at heart, what theatre asks us to do: as directors, designers, actors, and audience members. Beauty and the Beast could not have been a clearer demonstration or a more complete fulfillment of that basic truth.