A tale as old as time: EPAC presents ‘Beauty and the Beast’

By on December 12, 2018

 

Ryan Morgan as the Beast and Amanda Holsinger as Belle.

 

Like the majority of those who have enjoyed the tale of beautiful Belle and the Beast who dwells in the castle on the outskirts of her town, I have only known “Beauty and the Beast” as adapted by Disney. But, just like the song written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken for the 1991 animated feature, it is truly a tale as old as time.

“La Belle et la Bête” is a fairy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, but it sources a story captured as far back as the 2nd century A.D., when Apuleius detailed the account between the love of Psyche and Cupid. Based on the 1946 film (the first movie adaptation) directed by Jean Cocteau, renowned composer Philip Glass set “La Belle et la Bête” to opera in 1994, three years after Disney sunk its hooks into the story. Disney’s animated feature became the most successful animated Disney film and was the first animated film to reach $100 million in North America. It was a hit. Enter Broadway!

In 2002, a musical adaptation of the Disney film was penned by Linda Woolverton with music and lyrics by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice. Woolverton is a beast of a writer — pun intended. She wrote the screenplay for “The Lion King,” “Alice in Wonderland (2010),” and “Maleficent.” Her work on “Beauty and the Beast” earned her a Tony Award nomination.

Barry Ciabattoni (left) as Cogsworth and Sean Deffley as Lumiere in EPAC’s “Beauty and the Beast.” (LNP file photos)

Her work took shape on the EPAC stage at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre Thursday, Dec. 6 as “Beauty and the Beast” opened as a finale to the 2018 theatre season. After an unseen narrator provides the bewitched background of the Prince/Beast (Ryan Morgan*) who will remain under a horrific spell unless he can find true love, the tale unfolds as the movie does when we meet Belle (Amanda Holsinger), who is “Never part of any crowd/’Cause her head’s up on some cloud,” as she makes her way through her small provincial town in France. Belle has caught the attention of Gaston (Brad DeLeone), the town’s most eligible (but also laughable) bachelor, whose advances Belle has no interest in receiving.

Spared by the sudden appearance of her father, Maurice (Kevin Lambert), she wishes the old inventor good luck on his travels to a local fair. Becoming lost in the woods, Maurice stumbles upon the Beast’s castle and becomes a prisoner of the menacing figure, but not before losing the scarf Belle had made for her father. The scarf ends up in the hands of Gaston’s sidekick LeFou (Ethan Reimel) and Belle realizes something has gone amiss with her father’s travels.

Finding him a prisoner of the Beast, she persuades the former prince to take her as his inmate instead. Inside the castle things are not quite right as the inhabiting servants — Cogsworth (Barry Ciabattoni), Lumiere (Sean Deffley), Babette (Erin Dixon), Mrs. Potts (Donna Schilke), Wardrobe (Erin Wright), Chip (Aubrey Metzler and Nahla Samuel) — have all started to metamorphosize into belongings, yet they welcome Belle to “Be Our Guest.”

The Beasts mission is to have Belle love him despite his outward, and sometimes inward, ugliness. It is a fairy tale love story, which ends happily ever after. Well, maybe not for Gaston. But it is especially happy for the inhabitants of the castle who would otherwise become clocks, candelabras, feather dusters, teapots and teacups, furniture, and miscellaneous tableware.

It is with these characters where the fun of show resides. Deffley and Ciabattoni are wonderfully cast and paired to be the levity of the entire situation (even when the clock loses his mantle unscripted); Dixon adds a bit of spice to the scenes; and Schilke and Wright provide wonderful and professional voices to a show packed with talented singers. “Beauty and the Beast” may be one of the strongest vocal productions I have seen at EPAC, despite a flurry of sound issues plaguing parts of the show.

One of the most important parts of any production, in my opinion, is the actors’ ability to hit their lines and drive the emotion the playwright wishes to convey. Reimel and DeLeone, Ciabattoni and Deffley, and the Silly Girls (Kayla Klase, Marina Perrotti, and Abigail Sobanski) teamed up to deliver stellar performances.

(Left to right) Brad DeLeone as Gaston, Kayla Klase as Silly Girl, Amanda Holsinger as Belle, and Ryan Morgan as the Beast are pictured at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center where “Beauty and the Beast” will be staged through Dec. 22. DeLeone plays The Beast, and Klase takes on the roll of Belle in select productions.

Is EPAC’s presentation of a tale as old as time a Disney version or does it adhere closer to the classic version of the story? Without having volumes of literary criticism to peruse, nor the time to expand upon what I might learn reading and rereading said tomes, I have to admit I do not know. There are hallmark Disneyfied moments, which will remind viewers of the movie they fell in love with either in 1991 or 2017, but there is also something more sprinkled throughout this production.

That je nais se quoi resembles effort the most. The taxing nature of the grand production seems to exude from the players on the EPAC stage, not from exhaustion but from triumph, having pulled off something so intricate, detailed, and physically demanding. I can only imagine the amount of time and energy director Robert Cooper (and those unseen members of the theatre crew) needed to invest to create a show filled with magic, inspiration, and genuine smiles.

* For the first time since I’ve been writing reviews of EPAC productions — since 2012 — the company has planned understudies. During select performances Brad DeLeone will play The Beast, Kayla Klase will play Belle, Abigail Sobanski will play Babette, and Preston Cuer will play Gaston.

“Beauty and the Beast” will be staged through Dec. 22. To purchase tickets, visit ephrataperformingartscenter.com.

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