Theater Review: ‘Beauty’ of a ‘Beast’ at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre
“Disney Beauty And The Beast: The Broadway Musical” is the Disney version of the beloved fairytale about the bookish Belle who looks beyond the cover of the Beast to discover a Prince of a person inside.
The Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre (MSMT) version is satisfying, fun and entertaining for the whole family. It’s really the kind of musical you can, and should, take your child, grandchild or a young family relative to see.
That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable for older folks. On the contrary, adults will find MSMT’s “Beauty And The Beast” to be a fable with some stable take-aways, not the least of which is to not judge a book by its cover.
The symbolism of Belle, who is ostracized by her fellow villagers for having her nose in a book, when she reads “King Arthur” to the Beast, as she does in one scene, is so delightfully obvious that it really works.
And that’s what’s best about much of Disney entertaiment. The Disney version may often be simple but not typically simplistic. You may have experienced this at Disney World or Disneyland.
“Beauty And The Beast,” which opens MSMT’s 38th annual season, continues through July 1, Paul C. Empie Theatre, Dexter F. and Dorothy H. Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, Allentown. The June 16 performance was seen for this review.
“Beauty And The Beast” is paced by a great score of memorable songs, with melodic music by Alan Menken, very funny as well as insightful lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and Book by Linda Wolverton. The musical, which opened in 1994 on Broadway, has additional songs that aren’t in the 1991 feature animation film.
Scenic Designer Edward T. Morris gives the MSMT production a delightful storybook feel, thanks in no small part to the charming facades of six village buildings on a set that rotates to reveal the Beast’s castle interior, and, with some modifications, the tavern interior, and a backdrop that, with projections by Lighting Designer Gertjan Houben, gives the impression of a forest. Magic Consultant David Caserta adds to the stagecraft.
Costume Coordinator Barbara Erin Delo, Makeup Designer Joe Dulude II and Wig and Hair Stylist Kim Danish create believable representations of the inanimate objects that the castle-keepers have turned into.
There’s Cogsworth (Bob Fahringer, wonderful as always), the clock; Lumiere (Zachary Spiegel, with solid comedic timing), a candlelabra; Babette (Allison Bloechl), a feather duster; Mrs. Potts (Lauren Curnow, in a tremendous turn and voice), a teapot; Chip (Nathaniel Rock, who is just perfect), a teacup; Madame de la Grande Bouche (Jenna Leigh Miller), a dresser with drawers, and the Beast (Alan Mendez, dashing underneath the costume).
The cast of 35, which includes the Ensemble of 20, is capably directed by Gary John La Rosa, with Choreographer Ann Cooley, and Music Director Ed Bara, with an 11-piece orchestra.
The musical opens with a prologue narration with images projected on a frame at stage center, front of curtain.
“Belle,” the opening number sung by Belle (Ashley Hiester, who is the Lehigh Valley’s breakout summer theater season star so far), Gaston (Jon McHatton, in terrific form and vocals), Lefou (Noah Sunday-Lefkowitz, a great scene-stealer), the Three Silly Girls (Danielle Costanzo, Maura McColgan, Elissa Wells) and the Townspeople.
“No Matter What” is earnestly sung by Hiester and Neil Hever (Maurice).
Hiester and McHatton are hilarious in the song, “Me,” which celebrates the egotistical Gaston.
The rollicking “Gaston,” sung by McHatton, Sunday-Lefkowitz, Danielle Costanzo, Maura McColgan, Elissa Wells, and the Tavern Patrons, turns the ego up another notch to even more hilarious effect.
The musical’s big production number, “Be Our Guest,” doesn’t disappoint with Spiegel, Fahringer, Curnow, Miller, Rock, Bloechi and the Enchanted Objects getting into the act.
“Human Again” is terrific as sung by Spiegel, Miller, Fahringer, Curnow, Bloechi, Rock and the Enchanted Objects.
Curnow sings a tender and very memorable “Beauty And The Beast.”
If you can’t get to a Disney park in the next few weeks, “Beauty And The Beast” might be just the ticket for you at MSMT.
Tickets: Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre and Dance box office, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, 2400 Chew St., Allentown; muhlenberg.edu/theatre; 484-664-3333