Aha! Oui, oui, mah friends! The day we have waited for may be at hand! The Tidewater Players are producing Disney’s Beauty and The Beast. Ah…Beauty and The Beast. Think what that means! They’ll be singing again! They’ll be dancing again! They’ll be dressing up in glitter galore! They’ll be acting again! They’ll be living again! They’ll be entertaining audiences by the score! And The Tidewater Players, Havre de Grace’s original community theatre— the heart of the small-town community itself— cannot wait for you to be their guests! Directed by Laurie Starkey with Musical Direction by Stephanie Carlock Cvach and Choreography by Elise Starkey, this timeless tale will lighten your spirits just in time for the holidays!
A few scene-change hiccups aside, the Tidewater Players’ production of Beauty and the Beast is a solid one. With costumes to die for, designed and carefully crafted to fit the individual performers by Costume Designers Mark Briner and Tracy Bird, the performers out-twinkle even the brightest of stars in the night sky. There is so much glamor and enchantment happening in these costumes that it is most indescribable in a truly and utterly unbelievably magical fashion. One of the biggest hurdles any theatre faces when mounting such an iconic show, especially one that comes with preconceived connotations and expectations because of its animated film predecessor, is capturing the aesthetic via costuming. Briner and Bird work true miracles in this regard, with outfits that steal the show. This is especially true of the enchanted object costumes— notably Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Lumiere, with Cogsworth’s clock-handle mustache (that changes position from time to time!) being one of the most notably brilliant features about the collection— and the infamous golden ball gown featured on Belle during the titular number of the show.
Director Laurie Starkey works hand in claw with Dickie Mahoney, one half of the titular stardom of the show, to craft a simple yet functional set that really eases the magic along for the duration of the evening. Working closely with Lighting Designer Thomas Gardner, the duo sets provincial village French life leaps and bounds apart from the existence inside the magic castle. What’s most impressive about Gardner’s design is perhaps the paneling light stripes that he creates across the background scrim— French flag themed when they’re in the village and the recognizable palette of blueish-purple, magenta, and gold during the “Be Our Guest Scene”— to enhance the atmospheric energy of the production as a whole.
Starkey, who reverts back to the original casting choices for the stage version of the show and lets the Beast transform into the Prince at show’s end, does an exceptional job of handling these choices. Employing Gardner’s precision use of shadowy lighting and her own exacting sense of blocking, the special effect of transformation is successfully achieved with much chicanery at all. Adding to this Starkey’s approach to the fight choreography between The Beast and Gaston— and additionally the one-sided violent ‘fight choreography’ from Gaston to LeFou— there is much in the way of praise to be said about her directorial choices for the show.
With a vocally sound ensemble, cameo and character roles alike are able to make the most of their stage time, effectively providing a resilient and vibrant life to the iconic and well-loved Disney characters. The chipper Chip (at this performance Jude Mahoney) the saucy Babette (Tatiana Dalton) and the grandiose Madame de la Grande Bouche (Stacey Bonds) all find moments in which to glow throughout the production, whether it’s their adorable solo lines— both in and out of song— or their tell-tale moments during the siege upon the castle scene that occurs near the end of the show. All three are exceptionally fair of voice and do great justice to these enchanted objects.
The aforementioned enchanted objects, and several others— including a plethora of dancing silverware and spices featured during “Be Our Guest”— pave the way for the terrific trio: the comically crafted Cogsworth (Bobby Mahoney), the outlandishly lavish Lumiere (Mark Briner) and the preciously pristine Mrs. Potts (Julie Parrish.) Mahoney owns the tightly-wound character of Cogsworth from clipped British accent right down to all of the physical shenanigans that his character gets up to, and does the tensely ticked-off head of house a great justice. With superb comic timing and a delectable voice, Mahoney adds his own flare to “Human Again”, harmonizing when necessary. Briner, with his outrageous accent, flamboyant gestures, and hilarious line delivery, brings a similar grade of humor to the show. His rendition of “Be Our Guest” is unlike any ever previously seen— he’ll light up that number the way a grand candelabra ought to and the best bit are the facial expressions he pulls all throughout the song. Cherished for her songbird voice, the young Julie Parrish takes on the stereotypically older character of Mrs. Potts but puts her natural maternal instinct to good use and makes the character convivial. With dulcet tones she fondly settles into “Beauty and The Beast”, making the iconic dance scene between the titular characters the stuff of Disney hopes and dreams.
While Beauty and The Beast has a dozen or more ‘goodies’ there are naturally some baddies to counteract all of the saccharine syrup flowing for three-quarters of the show. What fun would it be if happily ever after came straight away? The brutish, boorish, oafish Gaston (Chris Volker) and his bumbling, bungling, blubbering sidekick Lefou (Austin Barnes) are a proper pair of rotten deuces as far as Disney villains are concerned. While Volker may not be your typical beefcake hulk, what he lacks in physical muscle he makes up for with miles and miles of attitude. So intently is he invested in the persona of being Gaston that when he struts about the stage you almost start seeing bulging biceps under his sleeves. Punching out numbers— and poor little Lefou— like “Me” and his verses of “Gaston” makes him most memorable in this production. Barnes, as the dim-witted and doltish sidekick, has a keen sense of how to roll with the punches, quite literally! Barnes’ physical slapstick timing is impeccable and makes the cartoonish violence look spot on for his character.
Carefully cultivating one half of the titular characters, Elisabeth Haley becomes Belle. You could stand her next to a Disney princess in the park and be just as pleased in both look and sound. Haley even manages to find enriching emotional moments for the character, which are often overlooked or neglected and dismissed as ‘lacking in a Disney musical’, but she proves that there can be depth even with Disney princesses. Both her solos “Home” and “A Change in Me” are vocally stunning, loaded with emotion, and frankly captivating to absorb. She shares the stage well with everyone, especially her father, Maurice (Wayne Ivusich.) Haley and Ivusich share a tender duet, “No Matter What”, which further showcases the depths of Haley’s performance bench and Ivusich’s rich singing voice. Haley plays well off of the Beast (Dickie Mahoney) exceptionally well too, developing an actual relationship arc that makes sense for the progression of their characters. The pair never truly sing together, though when singing opposite one another during “There’s Something There” this overlaid duet becomes quite endearing.
There is a humanity to Dickie Mahoney’s beast that defies the convention in the best way possible. He waits, of course, until the exact moment to truly display it, so that the trope of “misunderstood animal” feels as if he himself invented the notion. Careful about when and how he showcases the Beast’s humanity— like during “If I Can’t Love Her”— Mahoney fabricates a truly noble creature in his character. Tempering this with the humor and the temper tantrums that he has early on and his clumsy tomfoolery in the early bits of the second act, Mahoney finds an equilibrium in the character’s nature that speaks to his understanding of musical theatre and Disney musicals.
Ultimately, you’ll need to be their guest if you want to experience all of the magic that Tidewater Players has to offer with this production! Beauty and The Beast, is a special holiday treat— the only one of its kind!
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Beauty and The Beast plays through December 3, 2017 with Tidewater Players at The Historic Havre de Grace Opera House— 121 N. Union Street in historic downtown Havre de Grace, MD. For tickets call the box office at 667-225-8433 or purchase them online.