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By R.Eli Townsend
Special to The PREVIEW
Before there was “Frozen,” Disney had “Beauty and the Beast” as its obsessive hit with young children and teens alike. The animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” was first released on the big screen in 1991 and received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Beginning Friday, June 13, at 6 p.m., Thingamajig Theatre Company, in residence at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts, is presenting the Tony Award-nominated production of the Broadway favorite, “Beauty and the Beast” as its 2014 Summer Season opener.
“Beauty and the Beast,” with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and a book by Linda Woolverton ,is based on the 1991 film of the same name, which was in turn adapted from the French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont. “Beauty and the Beast” tells the story of a prince who is transformed into a hideous beast as punishment for his cruel and selfish ways, and an adventurous young woman named Belle, whom he imprisons in his castle. In order to become human again, the Beast must earn Belle’s love before it’s too late. Seven new songs were written for the stage musical.
“Beauty” ran on Broadway for 5,461 performances between 1994 and 2007, becoming Broadway’s eighth-longest-running production in history.
The musical has grossed more than $1.4 billion worldwide and played in 13 countries and 115 cities. A live film adaptation of the musical is in the works according to Alan Menken, with plans to include most, if not all, of the Menken/Rice songs from the Broadway musical.
If you missed the Broadway production or one of its national tours, you’re in good hands with Thingamajig’s outstanding production. Once again, audiences will be amazed that such a large-scale musical can be assembled without missing a beat, on Thingamajig’s intimate stage — a myth debunked by last season’s regional premiere of “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” If it’s two hours of professional singing, acting, and dancing, all wrapped up in a family friendly story that you’re looking for, “Beauty and the Beast” is just your ticket.
Producing artistic director Tim Moore has pulled together a cast unlike any seen (or heard) on the Center for the Arts stage. The performers bring to life some of the most iconic characters in animated film history with playful ease. Morgan Howard (Belle) and Zachary Spiegel (Beast) carry the weight of the show and don’t miss a step. Howard’s voice is a dead ringer for Paige O’Hara’s beautiful soprano that you’ll recall from the film and Spiegel’s baritone fills the theater with ease and, in this reviewer’s opinion, is grander than Terrence Mann’s who originated the role on Broadway.
Both actors are well-supported by a cast of charming enchanted objects. Alejandro Roldan (Lumiere) and Marty Craft (Cogsworth) tickle the funny bone with their antics and Boni McIntyre (Mrs. Potts) brings a tear of sentimental joy with her performance of the title song. Troy Bruchwalski does a great job as the textbook definition of bad boyfriend material, Gaston. He is all cartoonish cockiness and barely repressed rage, with a great singing voice to boot.
Director Laura Moore pulls together a very complicated show with ease and keeps it moving throughout many location changes and big production numbers. Ryan Hazelbaker returns again this summer and pulls out all the stops with his choreography. There’s no theater company in southwest Colorado that pulls off complicated footwork like Thingamajig Theatre Company when Hazelbaker is at the helm. Last season, Thingamajig and Hazelbaker received a nomination for a 2013 Broadway World Award for their work on “Spamalot” and “The Full Monty.” Hazelbaker has outdone himself this year with “Beauty.” You won’t find better dancers on stage this season than those at Thingamajig Theatre. Led by dance captain and assistant choreographer Mary Leigh Sturino, “Beauty’s” ensemble sizzles and hits every mark.
It would be remiss not to mention what many companies consider a “deal-breaker” when choosing to produce “Beauty and the Beast” — the costumes. No other show in Broadway history has had its characters so defined by their costumes. Belle and the Beast are beautifully recreated with painstaking detail and the enchanted objects are truly a sight to behold.
Candlesticks, clocks, feather dusters, forks, spoons even a rug are all brought to life in glorious color and fabrics. The program credits the Broadway costuming agency Thingamajig used for last year’s Spamalot, which featured the original West End costumes, and they impress, especially in the intimacy of Thingamajig’s space. Costumer Lexi Midgley and assistants Nannette Cheffers and Doris Leitch have carefully assembled a dazzling feast for the eyes.
Thingamajig’s blockbuster 2014 Summer Season also includes “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Les Misèrables,” and “A Chorus Line;” an ambitious season for even the most experienced theater company. With “Beauty,” Thingamajig sets the bar high and clearly wants you to settle in and “Be Our Guest” for the remainder of the summer. Bring the family and don’t miss it.
Thingamajig Theatre Company presents, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” rated G. Directed by Laura Moore with choreography by Ryan Hazelbaker and music direction by Boni McIntyre. Featuring Morgan Howard and Zachary Spiegel. Playing at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., June 13 through Aug. 24. For tickets and show information, visit www.pagosacenter.org or call 731.SHOW (7469).