San Diego, CA----Hilary Maiberger, graduate of SDSU Musical Theatre in 2008 and last seen on San Diego Stages as Nellie Forbush in Moonlight’s production of “South Pacific last summer, is a shining star in this current rendering of the Alan Menken (music), Howard Ashman & Tim Rice (lyrics) and Linda Woolverton (book) “Beauty and the Beast” now on stage at the Civic Theatre through Jan. 12th.
Whether sporting a ‘southern accent’ “washing that man out of her hair” or teaching ‘the beast’ ((Darick Pead) table manners in his own castle Maiberger’s Belle, the heroine of this show, has the poise the grace and the chops that give this National Touring Production the grounding it needs. (“Home” and “Change In Me”)
Based on Disney’s animated film of the same name, this show has all the ingredients any youngster (and adults alike) would drool over. Beautiful heroine, bright and colorful costumes (Ann Hould-Ward), handsome prince (before he was cursed), buffoon/cad/bully a la Lil Abner Gaston (Tim Rogan), Belle’s Dad, Maurice, an eccentric inventor (Paul Crane), singing and dancing table utensils, teapots, clocks and candelabra, (Matt West choreographed) and an adorable youngster, Chip (Josh Feldman, the performance I attended/ “Human Again”) frozen as were the rest of the household, as a cup and saucer. His mother, Mrs. Potts (Kristin Stewart) is the famous teapot.
The story of Belle a beautiful woman sought after and pursued by local cad Gaston, her journey of beastly cordiality and finally love begins when her father, gets lost in the mystifying forest (on a bicycle contraption he was testing out) that lies just beyond the outskirts of her little French village. In the forest he is besieged by some pretty scary looking leaping animals (puppets designed courtesy of Basil Twist). It is here that Belle tries to save her father now in the Beast's hands. In a trade off, Belle convinces the Beast to keep her prisoner and release her father, which he does.
Long before this however, and unbeknownst to those living in the Provencal, there was a castle hidden deep in the woods where a Prince who had not been very Princely turned a beggar woman away from the castle in her time of need.
Before he sends her away, she hands him a rose which not only revealed her beauty, but cast an evil spell on the Prince and his household turning him into a Beast; his servants into morphed household items and his castle a cold uninviting prison. The curse, we learn, can only be broken when the Beast learns to love and can be loved in return. his must happen before all the petals from the rose, which is sealed in a glass jar, fall from the stem.
The story segues back and forth between the palace and the town.
Back in the village, Gaston tries every which way to woo Belle, who always seems to have her nose in a book. He follows her around trying to convince her that he is the perfect male for her to marry; flexing his muscles and being just plain obnoxious and loathsome. He offers an absurd proposal of marriage to Belle, who quickly turns him down.
He's the guy you love to hate for his larger than life ego and his ridiculous passes and self serving chatter (that tend to backfire) but does lend some comic relief. Maiberger, as mentioned earlier, as the charming Belle as the deal maker/breaker for the success of bringing the Beast home and ridding herself of Gaston.
Over a period of hits and misses where Belle is now prisoner of sorts in the palace, she and the Beast, in their give and take, make their budding romance believable, appealing and and credible. Maiberger's voice is beautiful and her mannerisms are soft and firm when confronting the beastly Beast. Unfortunately, when not singing but speaking, her voice was drowned out by too much orchestra under the direction of conductor/director Kevin Finn who otherwise led his small orchestra of ten beautifully.
As the Beast, Pead over played his role so much that it was distracting and any empathy one might want to have for him was lost in his over exaggeration stretching and eating out every last bit of what might have given a little sympathy toward him. Unfortunately his odd looking beard and facial hairs also became a distraction and again more of a cartoon figure rather than a real character.
Back at the ranch, they all know that if the Beast finds true love the curse will be broken and they can resume their natural places in the castle. They try their utmost to make sure the Beast is on his very best behavior at all times, difficult as it proves to be, since he’s well, a beast.
The dancing silverware and other household items, signatures of the show, are always fun to watch especially Hassan Nazari-Robati as Lumiere the candelabra, whose lights are ready to extinguish any moment. Kristin Stewart’s Mrs. Potts, the larger than life teapot, was a little less that spot on. Son, Chip (Josh Feldman the performance I attended), whose face can be seen inside the teacup saucer and is pulled around in a tea wagon, is adorable. James Ray’s Cogsworth, the clock and head of household, is a hoot and howl to watch.
Their “Be Our Guest” song and dance number, one of the more clever ones in the show, proved to be both lively and fun. The more familiar theme song, Beauty and the Beast, by Roxy York, Madame de la Gran Bouche, and the grand armoire was as a strong presence throughout and was most impressive in her rendering.
Composer/lyricist Menken, who is no stranger to collaborating with other artists, worked on several Disney features such as “Little Mermaid”, “Pocahontas”, and “Aladdin”. His first successful work was in the off Broadway musical, “Little Shop of Horrors” in 1982.
“Beauty and the Beast” made its Broadway premiere in April of ’94 based on the Disney animated film of the same name. It was the first animated film to be nominated for The Academy Award for Best Picture.
While this particular production could stand less overkill and more nuance, the little gals dressed in their best princess dresses most likely never spotted the difference. So, if you are in a mindset to just sit back and relax, (don’t be frightened by the menacing looking Beast) and settle in for a rather long evening of Disney fun, you will be in good company.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Jan. 12th
Organization: Broadway San Diego
Production Type: Musical
Where: 3rd and B Street, Downtown San Diego
Ticket Prices: From $35.00
Venue: San Diego Civic Theatre