The fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast has been around for almost three hundred years in various forms. But Disney has generated a whole industry with its musical transformation of the tale as a cartoon on film and live on Broadway and around the world.
It is such a wonderful story one can hardly blame the Disney Corporation and others for relying on the tale for entertainment and moral instruction for young and old. Young People’s Theatre is offering the musical during November and December and if the matinee that I saw is an indication to full and enthusiastic audiences mostly of pre-teens.
The production has the virtues of a fine cast that can sing, dance, take care of comic business and get dramatic and scary as necessary. We follow the story enraptured in its telling as if we have never heard it or seen or before. But that is not all.
This is brilliant entertainment wrapped with easy-to digest morality lessons. Beauty (Celine Tsai) loves her father Maurice (Neil Foster) who is an outcast in the village; she rejects the empty-headed, egotistical and boorish Gaston (Aaron Ferguson) and she makes reading books and thinking appear attractive. She may be considered odd herself but she is a strong character who can stand up for herself. Count the number of virtues this young lady displays (if you need the fingers of only one hand, you better examine your values) and have a chat with your children
Examine the actions of the handsome Prince (Stewart Adam McKensy) who throws out an old beggar woman (Claire Rouleau) and is cursed by a spell becoming a Beast. There is a period of self-realization and transformation, a personal change that results in his humanization. And McKensy has a marvelous voice – another virtue, no dount.
Damien Atkins as Lumiere and Andrew Prashad as Cogsworth are very funny and Mrs. Potts (Susan Henley) and Chip (Phoebe Hu) are both funny and charming.
This is a fairy tale about change, growth, transformation and cogent lessons about tolerance, understanding and decency.
Who better to judge the quality of the production and the attendant issues of the fairy tale than my two Assistant Reviewers? Jordana (I am going to be 11 in January) and Emily, bright red lipstick applied with surgical precision, (I am going to be 10 in March).
Jordana liked and complimented the singing and as the daughter of a singer and participant in musicals herself, her opinion can hardly be gainsaid. Her assessment was that “Over all, it is a very good production” [sic]. She knew the story well enough to have drawn her own conclusions about its morality.
Asked about what she learned, Emily said tersely “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Her favourite scene was when Beauty and Beast kissed.
But Emily had second thoughts about some things. “Would you have let the old beggar woman in your house if she knocked on your door?” she asked me.
“Of course” I replied a bit too quickly.
“But mommy tells me not to talk to strangers and never to let anyone in our house” she observed. Ah!
The YPT production is an edited version of the Broadway musical and runs for about 85 minutes that seems to be the right amount of time before the kids start getting restless. The set by Sue LePage consists of moveable panels that enable quick and efficient scene change.
The fact that I enjoyed the production is of secondary importance. Listen to the infallible and totally reliable opinions of my Associate Reviewers and take your children to see the show.
Beauty and the Beast by Alan Menken (music), Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (lyrics), Linda Woolverton (book) directed by Allen MacInnis, continues until Dec. 31 at Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front St. East, Toronto, Ontario. www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca