Tale as old as time, tune as old as song! The timeless Disney classic Beauty & The Beast returns to Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre this spring as a part of the CareFirst Hippodrome Broadway Series. Presented by NETworks Presentations LLC, the classic fairytale musical brings all of your favorite characters home to Charm City for a fantastical night out at the theatre. Directed by Rob Roth, this Disney delight is geared for younger audiences and of course those young at heart, making for an enchanted evening of stage magic.
With all of the whimsy that one expects to accompany a Broadway-scale Disney-fied theatrical production, NETworks touring production of Beauty & The Beast does not disappoint in the aesthetics department. Storybook imagery like pages sprung freshly to life decorate the backdrop and rolling-flat creations of Scenic Designer Stanley A. Meyer. Taking the audience on a chimerical journey through the quaint French countryside village where Belle and her father Maurice reside, through the dark and foreboding forest, into a truly enchanted castle, Meyer uses a great deal of swirls and loops in his design elements, which entreat the mind to bend magically for all of the effects that play into the production.
Sound Designer John Petrafesa Jr. works with Puppet Designer Basil Twist to create striking moments of fairytale fantasy, with wolves that lope into attack and snarl with menacing echoes during scenes in the woods and shockingly graceful enchantresses that burst into existence at the beginning of the tale. Rounding out the spectacular spectacle required of such an enormous story, Lighting Designer Natasha Katz and Illusion Designer Jim Steinmeyer invent their own breeds of magic when it comes to the dazzling moments of magic that unfold throughout the performance. The shimmering gold reflections in Katz’ design are perfect for the bewitching mirror that will show you anything you wish to see, as are the blinking blackouts used for the story’s grand climax.
It wouldn’t be a true Disney show without the razzle dazzle of sparkly sartorial selections and Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward has quite the handle on the craft. In addition to both of Belle’s iconic dresses, first demure blue and then radiant yellow, Hould-Ward sets the tone for an enchanted evening with sprightly sparkles, dazzling dresses, and quirky colors all across the board. Finding the balance between copying the more iconic looks, like that of Gaston and the outfits witnessed in the memorable dance between Belle and Beast, and infusing the show’s couture with newly spirited individualities is a challenge which Hould-Ward rises to most successfully.
While the show is fun and definitely aimed to please the younger audience, Matt West’s Choreography across the board lacks cohesion and drive. This ties into the somewhat sluggish pacing delivered by Director Rob Roth, who takes some more of the comedic moments of shtick and pun and plays extenuates them beyond what is reasonable to get the laughter from the audience. “Belle” as well as “Gaston” lack energy and enthusiasm in both the singing and dancing of the number, but West’s routine shines as it’s expected to for “Be Our Guest”, which is hands down the most well-received song and dance in the show. There are inconsistencies in Roth’s approach to the characters on the whole, some which includes wavering accents among the enchanted objects, but the heart of the show is present and will easily capture the attention of younger audiences.
A stellar performance radiates from Mrs. Potts (Stephanie Gray) when she graces the production with “Tales as Old as Time.” Gray has a dulcet sound that carries the number with a lovely lyrical lilt transforming it into a heart-pleasing tender lullaby that drifts delicately into the ears of the audience and dances with the emotions in perfect synchronization to Belle and Beast twirling around the stage. Taking point in “Something There”, her tone is pure and resonant for this song as well. Sharing “Human Again” with Lumiere (Ryan R. Phillips) and the other enchanted objects, Gray delivers warm and friendly sounds in this number that really reflects the emotional connection Mrs. Potts has made to the lyrics.
Phillips, as the dashing and daring candlestick, does deliver the character with several punches of panache. Despite his inconsistent accent and tendency to overplay the campiness of the character, Phillips has a strong voice which is well suited for leading “Human Again” as well as “Be Our Guest,” the number wherein he and the rest of the Enchanted Objects of the Beast’s castle are given a true moment in the spotlight to shine. Raunchier than most remember, Phillips has several cheeky interactions with Babette (Melissa Jones) throughout the performance that give him an extra saucy edge.
Boorish, brainless, and brutish, Gaston (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) is a stomping tromping menace that serves as the perfect villain to this fairytale. Smith-Kotlarek takes the bull-headed “dumb jock” approach to his characterization and that seems to work just fine for him, especially when it comes to repulsing Belle and causing the Silly Girls (Jeanette Palmer, Colleen Roberts, Sarah Shelton) to swoon over him. Strong of voice for “Me”, “Gaston”, and “The Mob Song,” Smith-Kotlarek delivers a deep fortified sound in all three of his numbers, with “The Mob Song” being the one executed with the best precision.
The title characters of the show are mesmerizing. Both Belle (Brooke Quintana) and The Beast (Sam Hartley) are astonishing in this production. Quintana possesses as somewhat modern sounding voice with hints of a pop quality but tempers that sound beautifully into the more traditional sounding numbers like “Belle” and “Home.” Fiery of spirit and willful in her present-minded nature, Quintana delivers Belle as the hero we all know her to be, a zesty independent woman who craves adventure and knowledge. Emotionally grounded her rendition of “A Change in Me” is heartrending and exposes her deep seeded character transformation in that moment.
Hartley, as the Beast, is stunning. Delivering tragically beautiful melancholy for “If I Can’t Love Her”, Hartley welcomes the audience into intermission with his moving rendition of this number, bringing tears to the eyes as he tugs at the heartstrings of everyone listening. Masterfully playing the childish tantrums of the Beast when he first encounters Belle, Hartley is ruled by a bestial influence that radiates through his entire physicality. The character transformation, both emotional and physical, are magnificent to watch. The chemistry between Hartley and Quintana is equally impressive as it starts caustically and grows into something sweet and nurtured.
A show for all ages, and primed for those little ones who just can’t get enough of Disney stories and princess fairytales, Beauty & The Beast will not remain in town long, so don’t miss your chance to enjoy this tale as old as time and get tickets before the last rose petal falls.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission
Beauty & The Beast plays through May 15, 2016 at The Hippodrome Theatre in the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center— 12 N. Eutaw Street in the Bromo Seltzer Arts District of Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-7444 or purchase them online.