Disney's Beauty and the Beast rides on renewed energy and strong voices

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      Book by Linda Woolverton. Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Directed by Bill Millerd. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday, December 5. Continues until January 6

      From the first rose-petal fall to the joyous finale, the Arts Club’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast glows with the story’s message of love and forgiveness, infused with fresh elements. Originally staged in 2005 by director Bill Millerd, this production has evolved to stay relevant to audiences.

      The show features a strong, feisty Belle, played by Michelle Bardach, who’s initially rough around the edges, specifically in her stubbornness and rash decisions. She’s fearless in her responses to the Beast, aggressively shutting him down in his dinner invitations and making it clear she has no intention of playing nice. She gradually develops throughout the show, growing just as much as the Beast in her compassion and maturity. When Bardach sings “A Change in Me”, she all but blows the roof off with her tremendous soprano belt, but it’s her character development that brings sincerity to the song.

      As the Beast, Jonathan Winsby has a human tenderness underneath his animal surface. He caresses the soft phrases near the beginning of “If I Can’t Love Her”, with gentleness and heartfelt emotion, before he builds into his phenomenal tenor voice, making this song both poignant and exhilarating. And the initial relationship between Winsby and Bardach is so heated it verges on sexual chemistry—which makes their eventual romance all the more believable.

      Ali Watson, Kamyar Pazandeh, and Michelle Bardach.
      David Cooper

      As the arrogant hunter Gaston, the hysterical Kamyar Pazandeh is confident in his sexuality, taking pleasure moving his hips, strutting across the stage, and flexing his muscles. The twist here: his sidekick, LeFou, played by Ali Watson, is a female. And she’s no caricature of the animated film. Watson has spunk and confidence; she’s not a complete doormat for Gaston. Another change: the teacup Chip, played by energetic youngster Elizabeth Ford, is a girl. And why not?

      Scott Augustine’s updates on Valerie Easton’s original choreography are also refreshing. The attack of the wolves has an exciting contemporary feel to it. But Augustine keeps the feel-good moments, such as the fun “cup choreography” sequence in “Gaston”, and the Broadway pizzazz of “Be Our Guest”, complete with kick lines and pirouettes.

      Barbara Clayden’s French-aristocracy-inspired costume designs are superb, from the Beast’s royal-blue overcoat adorned with jewels, to the fine details such as the sequins on Belle’s yellow ball gown. The one letdown is the set design, which features a very crowded castle. Two large protruding sets—the Beast’s West Wing and Belle’s room—awkwardly compete for real estate. When the Beast gives Belle her tour, he has to walk around in a circle, as there’s nowhere else to go.

      Still, this production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast keeps alive the cherished story, characters, and songs, but with renewed energy and attitude—something that both children and adults will enjoy.