HERRIMAN — The production of Beauty and the Beast, as put on by the Herriman Arts Council was a captivating blend of Disney classic and original material. This story that is truly a “tale as old as time” has been done so many times that doing something new is definitely a challenge in and of itself. Every detail—from telling the same jokes in different tones to placing roses into costuming as a subliminal message—shows you how deeply invested the entire cast is in this story. Suffice it to say that the challenge was accepted and completed.
The main character Belle, as portrayed by Emily Wells, was refreshing in her performance. From her first moment on stage, she is a part of the show and the audience simultaneously, going so far as to make her first entrance from the audience. As she made her way on stage, the interactions she had with each and every cast member told a story, and it was a spin on Belle that isn’t often seen. She had a relationship with everyone she met, from telling her wild story of adventure to the young lady on the street of her poor provincial town, to joining the napkins for a kick line in her own dinner reveal of “Be Our Guest.” Additionally, the emotions that Wells showed towards her father and the Beast showed genuine care and love, and made it apparent she was truly going to love him by the end of this show because I could see it happening throughout the show.
The only major directorial change that didn’t work was the overwhelming emotion felt at the beginning of “Home.” The first two lines of the were song off key as the emotion seemed to take over the notes. In time, Wells brought the song to the proper pitch, and in the end it was still a wonderful ballad, albeit one started on a sour note.
The Beast, played by DRU, was a showstopper in everything he did. The animal-like demeanor he had adopted showed that he truly was under the same enchantment and was becoming less human as the production went on. However, the legendary temper of the Beast was missing, but DRU portrayed an entirely different range of emotions throughout the show, including the facial expressions that translated well, even amidst all the fur. When the Beast was giddy with love, there was a tangible change in his walk, and the hunch he sported became more defined with his dejection or sadness. During his wonderful rendition of “If I Can’t Love Her” the emotion was strong and real. The decision of director Stephen Kerr to have Wells flee the stage before the last verse of the lament was pure genius. Seeing the hurt on her face, the anguish he felt for frightening Belle, and seeing his possible last chance flee before him was an effect that brought together the recognition that the Beast might really care after all. The vocal talent displayed by DRU during all of his numbers, especially the aforementioned “If I Can’t Love Her,” was phenomenal.
The role of Gaston as played by Brian Taylor was a take on Gaston that seemed almost human, as opposed to the regular self-loving womanizer he is. The times when he had interactions with Belle were comically well timed, and seemed almost as if he actually was just someone with a crush who loved himself as much as he loved the object of his eye. A noteworthy moment in his performance was during the song “Gaston” when the microphones seemed to cut out, and despite the lack of technological help, Taylor’s voice could be heard ringing out as true as ever.
The set was a revolving one, designed by Stephen Kerr and Jolyn Chelak that was simply astonishing. The versatility of set pieces was apparent in every scene, but stood out most as several stand-alone columns opened up and connected to form the set for scenes in Gaston’s tavern and the fireplace within the Beast’s castle. The painting was gorgeous, with even a sunset painted above the entire cast that looked like the sky itself.
The costuming for this show is inherently difficult, needing to incorporate things into people, and was done marvelously by Meli Black. The costumes differed from the typical production of Beauty and the Beast, with things like cheese graters and egg timers making appearances, as well as the classic napkins and plates. The attention to detail in all of the costumes was astounding, including the lights in Lumiere’s hands being functional, and the roses adorning the apron Mrs. Potts wore, giving a slight nod to the theme of the entire show itself. All in all, the costumes had a reminiscent feel of the original animation, but with a unique twist that gave each and every character their own flair. The lighting for the show was an element that added feeling and depth, a vision that was carried out extremely well by Jaxon Desmarais, the youngest member of the production staff, but measuring beyond his age in talent.
The ensemble and supporting cast definitely made the show what it was, an ultimate success. As the scenes unfolded, the transitions were seamless, to the point where if one wasn’t looking hard enough, they may miss the scene change entirely. As production numbers began, there was a change in atmosphere with a few simple changes, like a gold banner being draped, or the benches being incorporated into dancing, a tremendous decision made by choreographer Julie Balazs. The adorable performance of Cooper Johnson as Chip was enhanced by the genius mirrored design of the cart he sported. Lumiere, (Stephen Tobian) and Cogsworth, (Ryan Throckmortan Fallis) were ever delightful, bringing new life to the timeless jokes in Linda Woolverton‘s script.
The large production numbers in Alan Menken‘s score (with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice) make up a good portion of the show. Noteworthy moments include the lovely business in “Belle,” where there was always something going on, but never enough to distract from the purpose of the song. During “Be Our Guest,” the choreography was fantastic, but the things that stood out were the characters that the ensemble members had so fully adopted. The napkins in particular shone a little brighter than the rest, and not just because they were dressed in pure gold. However, it would be unfair not to mention the stand out performance of the men in “Gaston,” with stylish dancing and fun for all. The vocals at times suffered when harmonies fell through, but rose to the occasion when all parts could be heard.
Anyone who is a fan of Walt Disney knows the story by heart, but one thing is guaranteed, even diehard Disney fans have never seen Beauty and the Beast done this way. If you want an entertaining evening in the open air, seeing Beauty and the Beast by the Herriman Arts Council is a night to enjoy.