Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at TOY. “Isn’t it amazing?” Yes it is.

THE BASICS: Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the Broadway musical, by Alan Menken, music and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, with a book by Linda Woolverton, directed by Lisa Ludwig, runs through May 22, presented by the Theater of Youth, Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., also Friday, May 13 at 7 p.m., at the Allendale Theater, 203 Allen Street, Buffalo, NY 14210. 716.884.4400 theatreofyouth.org Masks are required. Duration: 2h30 including an intermission

VIGNETTE SKETCH: (adapted from TOY) Based on a French fable, this classic story tells of Belle, an independent-minded young woman “trapped” in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is actually a young prince trapped under a spell. an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed into himself. But time is running out. If the Beast doesn’t learn his lesson soon, he and his family will be doomed for eternity.

THE ACTORS, THE GAME AND THE PRODUCTION: I absolutely loved, loved, loved this show. It had everything I want in a musical. I laughed, I cried (a lot), I fell in love, I had my songs in counterpoint (the best was Busby Berkeley’s whirlwind of activity in “Be Our Guest”) and an orchestra of 10 really well balanced musicians gave us not only an opening, but also a prologue, intermission music and a long round of applause.

And I love how composer Menken “foreshadows” his melodies, for example, how the opening melody of Act I in the number “Belle” will return in “Something There” in Act II. Leitmotifs and themes, very lyrical. But the lyrics also foreshadow, as when Belle, her nose in a book, sings “Oh, isn’t it amazing? / This is my favorite part because you’ll see / This is where she meets Prince Charming / But she won’t find out it’s him until chapter three! Well, Act II. (Spoiler? I doubt it, assuming if you’re old enough to read this you already know the story.)

And, also in “Belle,” lyricist Ashman foreshadows the whole reason this rom-com works: Beast is isolated but the whole story hinges on Belle feeling that too, as the villagers sing, “But behind this beautiful facade / I’m afraid she’s kinda weird / Very different from us / She looks nothing like us / Yes, Belle is different from us.

The two tracks of Belle et Bête were exceptional. Genevieve Ellis as Belle has that authentic “Broadway voice” we’ve come to expect when we go to, say, Shea’s, and on stage, enhanced by Ken Shaw’s wonderful costumes, she embodies the role. She’s been singing with Second Generation Theater for a little while now and it’s so great to have this major young talent in town. Singing teachers and choir directors: You could encourage singers to watch her technique (she has a degree in vocal pedagogy), especially the way she opens her mouth, like Audra McDonald, when she sings. So many young singers these days are too dependent on their main mics and vocal projection is becoming a lost art.

Steve Copps who plays Beast just keeps getting better. I haven’t always been a fan, but since TOXIC AVENGER then BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY his voice has become richer and stronger. It’s pretty typical of male voices… it takes time. Yeah, I know his mic was electronically processed, but he’s got the chops to begin with.

Bobby Cooke (who was also on stage as Belle’s father, Maurice) created crisp, fresh choreography. And with dancing spoons and cabinets, teapots and cups on a relatively small stage, that’s no small feat.

Buffalo’s “funny guys” were recruited for the comedic roles – Bobby Cooke, Josh Wilde, Jacob Albarella and Louis Colaiacovo, as well as David Wysocki (last seen as Lord Voldemort in PUFFS) but here replacing David Spychalski as Gaston, the self-centered “manly man” attracted to Belle. They all delivered, as expected.

The “Silly Girls” (see full cast list below) were appropriately silly and big physical clowns and their ensemble dance was well-timed.

A special dedication to Charmagne Chi playing Madame de la Grande Bouche (the Lady with the Big Mouth). This won’t be lost on Ms. Chi fans (including myself) but what you might miss (especially because everyone is masked) is that in the chorale numbers there are particularly high notes that “soften” the harmony. All Chi.

 don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a kiddie show. 

Just because it’s at the Theater of Youth, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a children’s show. It’s a full-fledged musical that would suit almost any theater in Buffalo. In fact, most of the opening weekend audience (Mother’s Day, actually) was made up of adults – grandparents, parents, spouses, friends and, yes, theater critics. So while you may feel uncomfortable buying a ticket for, say, ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE, you shouldn’t deprive yourself of the chance to see this show.

Now, I admit, I’m crazy about anything that was composed by Alan Menken. Of course, he is universally loved for his scores and songs for movies produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, but if I understand correctly, he could also be credited with saving those studios. You see, the great Disney animation machine had fallen on hard times until Menken’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ was a hit, followed by ‘Beauty and the Beast’ which was a HUGE hit, earning some number of firsts: the first animated film of all time. win the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy…. first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and first Disney animated film to be adapted into a Broadway musical (which ran from 1994 to 2007).

Is he really that good? Oh yes. Along the way, Menken (also known for “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas” and “Little Shop of Horrors”) has won 8 Oscars, 1 Tony Award, 11 Grammy Awards, a Daytime Emmy Award which, all sounded, make him one of only sixteen people to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony, collectively known as “EGOT”.

Of course, it takes a team to write the music and lyrics and that includes longtime Menken collaborator Howard Ashman, who sadly died of HIV/AIDS on March 14, 1991. Why is this date important? Because he was only 40 at the time and never got to see the final product or personally receive his Oscar.

Attach

Tim Rice was brought in to complete the film. I don’t know which numbers are Ashman and which are Rice, except I know for sure that Beast’s Act I closest to “If I can’t Love Her” was by Tim Rice.

Directed by Lisa Ludwig, and the production team includes Bobby Cooke (Choreographer), Ken Shaw (Costume Designer), Todd Proffitt (Lighting Designer), David King (Set Designer), Diane Almeter Jones (Props Artisan), Brian Wantuch ( Sound Design), Brian Cavanagh (production manager), Steve Vaughan (fight choreographer) and Brittany Wysocki (stage manager), plus an 11-piece orchestra led by music director Joe Isgar.

The cast includes: Genevieve Ellis (Belle), Steve Copps (Beast), Annette Daniels-Taylor (Mrs. Potts), David Spychalski (Gaston), Josh Wilde (Lafue), Jacob Albarella (Cogsworth), Lou Colaiacovo (Lumiere), Bobby Cooke (Maurice) , Charmagne Chi (Madame De La Grand Bouche), Elizabeth Arnold (Babette), with Silly Girls played by Arin Lee Dandes, Alexandra Montesano and Faith Walh, as well as newcomer Grace Sullivan as Chip. Additionally, we have Thomas Evans, Joseph Greenan, Karen Harty, Nathaniel Higgins, Michael Kelleher, Emory Redfearn and David Wysocki as set/doubles.

In an era where for COVID and cost-cutting many theatres are going with virtual programs, TOY has gone the other way and then some. 

A few more congratulations. At a time when, for COVID and cost reduction, many theaters are moving to virtual programs, TOY has gone the other way, and then some. The front pages look like the posters you’d get at Shea’s for a touring Broadway show. The bios each include a color thumbnail photo (chic touch). And, taking a page from SHAKESPEARE IN DELAWARE PARK (where the director of this musical, Lisa Ludwig, is the executive director), the last 10 pages of the poster are in a binder style, with a coloring page, a word search, a page to design a costume, and much more. There’s even a section on THEATER ETIQUETTE which might not be a bad thing for Shea to include.

There is no posted age limit that I could see but given that it is 2.5 hours I would think 7+ but of course you know your child best. In summary, I wholeheartedly agree with TOY Executive Director Tracy Snyder who says, “This season marks our 50th anniversary and this musical is for audiences of all ages! Whether or not you’re familiar with the Disney adaptations, this is an exceptional experience to see live on stage, not to be missed.

*BUFFALO HERD (Notes on scoring system)

A BUFFALO: That means trouble. A terrible play, a very flawed production, or both. Unless there’s a really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you’re the parent of someone attending), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALO: Passable, but no major shaking. Either the production is quite off base or the part itself is problematic. Unless you’re the type of person who just goes to the theater, you might be looking for something else.

THREE BUFFALO: I’m still having my issues, but it’s been a damn good night at the theater. If you don’t come in with huge expectations, you’ll probably be satisfied.

FOUR BUFFALOS: The production and the piece are of high caliber. If the genre/content is right for you, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALO: Truly superb – a rare rating. Comedies that leave you faint with laughter, dramas that truly touch your heart. As long as it’s the kind of show you like, you’d be crazy to miss it!

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