"Disney's Beauty and the Beast" is not just for children anymore.
Director Rob Roth's production is still a winner for youngsters, as evidenced by the many smiling, fancy-clad girls and boys at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis on Tuesday, where the fairy tale opened.
But the swell musical is infused with many more fleshed-out elements for adults -- some sexy shaking here, more suggestive playfulness there, and costumes that enhance the view of all of it. In short, members of the creative team, including costume designer Ann Hould-Ward and choreographer Matt West, have made "Beauty" appealing for those without children in tow.
Roth's staging has been tweaked from the last time Disney's "Beauty" wowed the Twin Cities in 2000. This version has smoother, more effortless transitions. Stanley Meyer's scenic design has sleeker set pieces that are more easily manipulated by ensemble members, yet the show retains its sense of extravagant fantasy. Basil Twist's wolf-like puppets are also noteworthy, as is the added humor in this animated-movie-come-to-life. The laughs are achieved, in part, by the well-timed delivery of tightened lines and by musical cues and sound effects that accompany pratfalls. Carolyn Violi is the crisp and romantic conductor who earns her keep throughout, especially on the show-stopper "Be Our Guest."
The sense of play in "Beauty" extends to the interpretation of the characters themselves. The Beast (Darick Pead), for example, may have a long tail, big horns and scary teeth, but underneath it all, he's just a suffering, misunderstood sweetie with anger-management issues. He merely needs the love of the right gorgeous lady (Hilary Maiberger plays Belle) to become the prince he once was.
Pead gives the Beast an enchanting transformation that epitomizes the leap that this story has made. When he is barking-mad scary, he is frightening in a larger-than-life way. But when he is sincere, it's like a flat, black-and-white picture has suddenly come to colorful, 3-D life.
It was thrilling to see Pead invest his well-worn role with freshness. Maiberger's Belle also added a welcome edge to a character that sometimes suffocates in sweetness. She made Belle into a contemporary figure, not just a young lady trapped in a fairy tale.
The show has lots of secondary and tertiary characters who make it well worth watching, including Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Robati), the man with lamps on his hands; living teakettle Mrs. Potts (Erin Edelle); clock-man Cogsworth (James May), and quivering Babette (Jessica Lorion).
I also was impressed with new cast member Jeff Brooks, who played Belle's romantic foil, Gaston. Brooks' character is like a French Elvis with long hair and big muscles who is all about himself. His narcissism was comically entertaining in this enchanting production.
Rohan Preston 612-673-4390