Enchanting is a word that gets tossed around a lot, especially when you’re dealing with princesses and magical castles, but Pixie Dust Production’s Portland version of the Beauty & the Beast musical is exactly that: a huge Broadway sing-along remounted with moxie by a cast of warm and lively local vets made special with truly fanciful sets and costumes. It’s an early Christmas present for musical lovers—especially those with kids in tow.
You know the story: Selfish prince gets turned into beast, his servants transformed into magical household objects, meets plucky girl; life lessons, romance, and dancing flatware ensue. The key to the success of Disney’s 1991 movie was its clever, swoon-worthy songs and gaggle of fast-talking anthropomorphized candlesticks and feather dusters. Same goes for Greg Tamblyn’s production, which includes every note, quip and talking wardrobe of the original.
And those costumes: honestly, the only thing that rivals Margaret Louise Chapman’s fantastical constructions—which turn local actors like Dale Johannes into a debonair candlestick, complete with lit wax hands, and a Jefferson Dancer into a paisley carpet—is the gaggle of floofy, fancy, mostly yellow dresses sported by little girls at the show’s debut matinee last Saturday.
The stage finery reaches a fabulous fever pitch in “Be Our Guest,” which trots out cup and saucer Vegas showgirls, tap dancing salt and pepper shakers, and even a linen napkin can can (again, having the Jefferson Dancers as your dance corps is a major boon). Even Belle’s fellow (provincial) townspeople are dazzling; dressed in an assortment of warm colored calico and stripes as they pipe up about needing expensive eggs and killing beasts.
Although her pipes are strong and delivery affecting, Erin Charles’ Belle is a bit of a cold fish at first. She leans the bookworm toward melancholy with little of the spunk of the animated Beauty. After a night in the magic castle, she loosens up. Similarly, veteran local actor Lief Norby has little to do as the shaggy, horned Beast for the first half, besides deliver a few growls and bat around a few wolves. But he rightly steals hearts with his vignettes of monstrous puppy love and noble sacrifice (complete with a love lament!) after intermission. The show, as most Disney productions do, really belongs to the sidekicks and villains.
As Gaston (who ought to be resurrected to star in his own meathead spin-off on Disney TV someday) Stacey Murdock swaggers and stomps with Bruce Campbell-level camp to smarmy-hilarious affect. His tavern salute “Gaston” with Joey Cote (Le Fou), complete with the requisite antlers, giant furry chair, and a beer stein dance number, is one of the highlights of the show. Joe Theissen’s tightly wound Cogsworth and Johannes’ Lumiere feel plucked right from the film (that’s a great thing), while Amy Jo Halliday sparkles at Mrs. Potts—even while swaddled in a giant foam and fabric teapot costume.
A handful of songs added for the Broadway production drag down the action at times. Luckily the spirited group song for the servants, “Human Again,” and a pair of dastardly goofy numbers for Gaston, are worth the extra run time.
During the team’s first performance, sure, there were a few missed cues and the pace of some of the live songs seems a bit sluggish. But in no way does that diminish the charm of this plucky production. There’s enough flash-bang magic for the kids and fun wordplay and innuendo to keep the adults’ snickering. In other words, this is one tale as old as time that is truly worth your time.