In 1991, Disney took the movie industry by storm by releasing Beauty and the Beast, an animated film that has touched the hearts of people everywhere. Based on La Belle et la Bête, a fairy tale written by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont in 1756, Beauty and the Beast is centered around a Beast – a young prince put under a curse by an enchantress because of his lack of love for others – and a young woman named Belle, who becomes the Beast’s prisoner within his castle. To break the everlasting curse that is put on him, the Beast must fall in love with Belle and win her love in return. If he were to fail, he would remain a beast forever. The film opened to critical acclaim and was the first animated film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
A few years after the films release, the beautiful story was brought to the magical world of Broadway. Under the creative direction of Robert Jess Roth, choreography by Matt West, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice and story by Linda Woolverton, the musical opened on April 18th, 1994, at the Palace Theatre. The production would run on Broadway until July 29th, 2007, closing after 5464 performances and earning the title of Broadway’s 8th longest running production. The show would go on to have a London production, three national tours and countless international productions.
Coming to Toronto is the fourth national tour of Beauty and the Beast, produced by NETworks and presented by Dancap Productions. It showcases the return of the original Broadway creative team – after almost 15 years – and features new sets, costumes & musical numbers. As you walk into the beautiful Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts – a nice change from the traditional Dancap venue that is the Toronto Centre for the Arts – you are presented with this beautiful set, featuring well done embroidery and color. As the lights dim and the narration begins, you are slowly, but surely, brought into the magical world of Disney’s iconic story.
Like any tour, the production has had to be scaled down to make it financially and physically feasible to present nationally, at various different theatre’s; this, however, has not affected the quality of the production itself. There is detail in every part of the production, mixed with a great use of colour, lighting & music, adding depth and emotion throughout the musical. The set itself is well designed, having the necessary level of detail required whilst being easily maneuverable to give fluidity between scenes. Overall, the production is a fantastic visual treat.
This production rewards you with outstanding performances. The cast simply amplify the characteristics of their individual characters. The immediate standouts are Michael Haller as Lumiere, the hilarious french candelabra, and Matt Farcher as the overconfident, egotistical Gaston. Haller provides a truly hilarious performance as Lumiere, capturing his rebellious “unhinged” side ridiculously well. Farcher, by the same token, gives an outstanding performance as Gaston, capturing both his ego and his narcissistic character. Both actors do an outstanding job, showcasing great chemistry with other cast members and truly highlighting their characters.
However, the two actors that really deliver are Emily Behny & Dane Agostinis who play Belle and the Beast respectively. Its always a challenge to live up to the expectations of your role, especially if your playing the lead characters. Dane Agostinis does an excellent job in portraying the Beast. He juggles between emotions very well, capturing the rough, uncaring side of the Beast brilliantly while still being able to convey the caring, softer side of the human that his character once was. Emily Behny on the other hand gives a truly refreshing performance as Belle. She puts herself in the shoes of a woman who demonstrates both patience and understanding for those around her while still having the strength to look into the eyes of the Beast. Behny’s confidence in her role is truly wonderful to watch. Both actors give truly memorable performances.
For those who have seen the original production, there will always be a special place for the original creative idea. Its hard to put that aside and accept something new. However, if given the chance, this production brings forward a unique approach to an iconic story. You will notice changes, both in the feel and in the elements, but this production does do justice to the original story. Its a heartwarming experience!
Beast and the Beast plays the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until July 22nd 2012. For tickets, please visit www.dancaptickets.com