A tale as old as time gets an enchanting makeover in PCPA-Pacific Conservatory Theatre’s production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”
PCPA kicks off its 53rd season with a musical that captures all of the charm of the animated classic while adding an extra dimension to the magical tale. Capably helmed by director Mark Booher with the help of choreographer Michael Jenkinson and music director Brad Carroll, the stage production features a delightful cast and cunning costuming and visual effects.
Inspired by a French fairy tale, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is based on the Oscar-winning animated movie “Beauty and the Beast,” which opened in theaters in 1991. The Tony Award-winning stage production premiered three years later on Broadway; it features music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, as well as a book by Linda Woolverton.
Brainy beauty Belle (Annali Fuchs) is tired of living in a provincial town in the French countryside with her father, kooky inventor Maurice (Peter S. Hadres). She longs for an adventure like the ones described in her favorite books.
Neighborhood hunk Gaston (George Walker) has other ideas about Belle’s future. Not content with the adoration of his witless lackey Lefou (Tyler Campbell) and the village flirts (Mandy Corbett, Caroline Wheleham and Cheyenne McDonald), this skilled hunter wants to bag a wife.
But before Gaston can get Belle in his crosshairs, her father takes a wrong turn on his way to the fair and seeks shelter in a creepy castle.
It’s home to an enchanted prince trapped in the body of a hideous Beast (Matt Koenig) and his servants, transformed into household objects by the same sorceress’ spell.
Although the household staff — including Lumiere the candelabra (Andrew Philpot) Cogsworth the clock (Jenkinson) and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Kitty Balay) — welcome Maurice warmly, the angry Beast locks up the intruder in a dungeon.
When Belle shows up in search of her dad, the servants celebrate. Here could be the Beast’s one chance to end the enchantment, which can only be conquered by the power of true love.
But the Beast quickly clears the air of romance. He’ll free Belle’s father, he says, only if she promises to stay his prisoner forever.
It’s hardly an auspicious start to a relationship.
In order to woo Belle, the Beast will have to tame his wild side. Belle, in turn, must learn to look past the Beast’s frightening appearance to discover the man within the monster.
With her piping soprano and naturalistic acting, Fuchs makes for a believable Belle. She’s a confident counterpart to Koenig as the tormented yet tender-hearted Beast.
Although Jenkinson and Philpot’s odd-couple antics are enjoyable, it’s Walker who reliably steals the show throughout “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” as the egotistical Gaston, his chest visibly heaving with machismo. With comical Campbell as his foil, he’s the kind of villain you love to hate.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” sticks relatively close to the plot of the movie, expanding the Beast’s side of the story and making the bond between Lumiere and Cogsworth more believable.
Intact are the crowd-pleasing songs that made a movie a hit — including the title tune, still a tearjerker. “Gaston,” with its clanking beer mugs, is an utter gas.
But PCPA pulls out all the stops for the show-stopping “Be Our Guest,” allowing audiences to take in the full scope of Jenkinson’s complex choreography and Jason Bolen’s romantic rose garden of a set while marveling at the intricacies of Judith A. Ryerson’s costumes. From Babette the flirtatious feather duster (associate choreographer Katie Wackowski) to opera-singing wardrobe Madame de la Grande Bouche (Bree Murphy), each outfit is more inventive than the next.
Added for the stage production are seven new musical numbers — all pleasant but not particularly memorable.
The exception is “Me,” in which Gaston paints a picture of domestic bliss with Belle as a happy housewife and mother. (Not surprisingly, she’s not thrilled about the prospect of tending his brood.) Tackling the song with predictable gusto, Walker turns what could have been a trifle into a true romp.
A distant second is “Maison des Lunes,” which allows Erik Stein to demonstrate his gift for menace as madhouse proprietor Monsieur D’Arque.
With a live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” slated to open in movie theaters in March, now is the perfect time to revisit the story of Belle and her Beast. PCPA’s splendid production will remind theatergoers why this fairy tale remains truly timeless.
‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’
Various times, through Dec. 23
Marian Theatre, 800 S. College Drive, Santa Maria
$31.50 to $41.50
8 p.m. June 15 through July 2
Solvang Festival Theater, 420 Second St., Solvang
$40.50 to $51.50
805-922-8313 or www.pcpa.org