Review: Beauty and the Beast

The Arts Club Theatre Company brings back another Vancouver holiday tradition with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast returning to the Stanley Theatre through January 4th.

Now, we know you are expecting our usual insightful, sometimes humorous reviews but we have decided to take a different tack with our review of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and get an honest review from one of the children in attendance at the show.

As luck would have it, sitting directly behind us in the theatre was “almost” five-year old Henry. Henry was with his mom and we found out that this was actually his first live theatre play. Mom told us that Henry didn’t know the story (Mom was very embarrassed to say she actually had the book but never read it to him) and she very patiently and thoughtfully explained live theatre to him and what he might expect.

(As an aside, one of the things we overheard Mom talking to him pre-show was not to talk or make any noise during the show – I think we need more “Moms” to have the same talk with some of adults including the couple that sitting next to us that were 15 minutes late AND couldn’t keep quiet through the entire show).

But before we get to what Henry had to say about the show, if you don’t know the story of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by now you’ve obviously been living in your own little castle in the woods given the mighty Disney marketing machine.

The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company's production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Photo by David Cooper.
The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Photo by David Cooper.

For those that need a refresher though, this stage version of the Disney cartoon, adapted from the French original fairy tale, tells the story of a young French girl Belle (Amy Wallis) and her quest for more meaning in her life and love beyond the “provincial” town in which she lives. Pursued by the town’s mucho-macho most-eligible bachelor, Gaston (Jonathan Winsby), Belle rejects his advances believing that true love exists for her elsewhere.

In an attempt to save her father, who becomes a prisoner to the Beast (Steve Maddock), Belle agrees to stay with the Beast in exchange for her father’s release. As Belle spends more time in the Beast’s enchanted castle, complete with talking cutlery and other household items, she slowly grows to love him despite his gruff manner and his rather scary exterior.

Now, back to Henry and his review!

While we had a little trouble prying some deeper insights from Henry, he was a little shy as “almost” five-year olds can be, he did manage to tell us that he would definitely give the show a “thumbs up” and thought other kids would like it. He thought the Beast was very mean at the beginning but liked the fact he got nicer as the show progressed.

Interestingly during the break, Henry also started asking his Mom what it meant to be a “gentleman” given it was a recurring theme for the Beast. We couldn’t help but have a smile on our faces as we thought “almost five” was a great time to start thinking about such things and based on Henry’s demeanour during the show, the patience his Mom showed with him, and his overall satisfaction with his first stage show, we are sure Henry is well on his way to being a real gentleman himself!

As for the adults in the audience, we enjoyed ourselves too. That Disney magic was in full force complete with tiny little moments that combined to make a very enjoyable evening. Amy Wallis ably managed to capture both the innocence and hard-headedness of Belle and Steve Maddock’s Beast was just the right amount of scary. Special mention here has to go to Vincent Tong as LeFou who plays Gaston’s foil with great comedic (and physical) abilities and Susan Anderson’s rendition of the title song was spectacular.

But this is also about a very strong ensemble cast here too with many of the ensemble playing multiple roles. In fact, some of the best moments were the big ensemble production numbers including the ultimate crowd-pleaser “Be Our Guest”.

Valerie Easton’s choreography worked well and played to the strengths of the ensemble and Alison Green’s revolving stage helped move us easily through the various story locales.

Director Bill Millerd has done another great job with his cast here. While some have been with the show since it started its annual Christmas run at the Stanley a few years ago, there are some new faces and it is Millerd’s skilled directing, even amongst what we are sure are exacting standards from Disney, that makes the entire cast shine and ultimately deserving of Henry’s thumbs up.

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