CEDAR RAPIDS — “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” embodies all that is magical about musical theater and proves that shows designed for children can be just as wondrous for adults.
The first of two sold-out audiences giggled, guffawed, gasped and cheered through 2 hours and 40 minutes of utter enchantment Sunday (2/17/13) afternoon at the Paramount Theatre.
This national tour was mounted by the design and production crew that first brought the show to Broadway, so every inch of the scenery, costumes, lighting and special effects was beyond gorgeous, matched only by the singing, dancing, acting and orchestra.
“I love it,” my almost-8-year-old niece, Isabelle Slocum, declared at intermission. “It’s pretty cool. Belle is really pretty — everything’s just really cool.” She and her mom both thought Gaston was funny, too, and Isabelle sang the show’s praises all the way home to Mediapolis.
She’ll be singing the songs, too, for days to come. And that is the beauty of bringing first-class productions to the Paramount. These shows create lifelong memories and instill a love for the arts in little viewers and the adults lucky enough to share in the experiences.
The show was visually stunning. I worked in theater for a very long time, and I still got lost in several “how’d they do that” moments — especially at the end, when love’s tears lift the Beast into the air, where he swirls amid the lights and becomes the handsome prince right before our very eyes. It’s a superbly magical moment.
Everyone in the cast is so strong, having such a ball playing the characters many of whom were one step short of a cartoon.
Hilary Maiberger is simply lovely as Belle, the bookish girl with a heart so large she can see inner beauty where others see a hideous monster. Her voice matches that strength of soul as she soars through “A Change in Me,” realizing all the Beast has taught her during her time imprisoned in his castle.
Darick Pead brings terror and tenderness to the Beast, roaring and growling one moment, then softening just enough to let the children in the audience embrace him with laughter, not fear. His musical numbers break your heart, as he struggles with his inner demons.
His cold, callous ways caused him to fall under a witch’s curse years ago, which can only be lifted when he learns to love and finds love in return. He struggles mightily to find vestiges of humanity buried within the animal he has become.
The supporting cast brings light and laughter to shatter the darkness of the tale.
Joe Hager is all ego and muscles as Gaston, the sexy beast from the village determined to win Belle’s heart. He doesn’t stand a prayer of a chance — a cad who has virtually no redeeming qualities. He struts with a bit of an Elvis swagger, however, that lightens his load. Jimmy Larkin adds lots of visual punch and pratfalls as his hapless sidekick Lefou, kicking up laughter at every turn.
So much of the magic, however, comes from the enchanted servants also laboring under the witch’s curse. Delightful at every turn are Lumiere, a candelabra whose hands light up; Cogsworth the clock; Madame de la Grande Bouche, an opera singer turned into a wardrobe; Babette, a French maid who now shakes her tailfeathers as a feather duster; teapot Mrs. Potts and her adorable teacup son Chip.
Always a showstopper, “Be Our Guest” is as big and exciting as musical theater gets, with a chorus line of cutlery joining the castle’s staff in welcoming Belle to her new life, near the end of Act I.
A more intimate moment creates the wonder in Act II, as Mrs. Potts (Erin Edelle) sings the show’s title song, while Beauty and the Beast share a romantic candlelit dinner and waltz under a full moon.
The bouncy townspeople, the frightening wolves, the hideous gargoyle minions at the castle and an acrobatic magic carpet infuse the show with humor and horror, rounding out a thrilling, enthralling tale as old as time, yet always fresh and new.