The “tale as old as time” came to life last night in Columbus as Disney presented is Broadway version of the classic animated movie, “Beauty and the Beast” at the Palace Theater. The almost 3 hour long musical version is a far cry from its just-over-an-hour animated counterpart, and the length change was evident in watching the crowd full of a shockingly large number of pint-sized audience members dressed in their princess gowns, trying to sit patiently through their dreams coming to life in a lengthier fashion.
However for those preschoolers, as well as the adult audience members accustomed to the well-merchandized version of Belle, Hilary Maiberger’s on-stage version did not disappoint, as she was a true Disney princess in the flesh. Not only is Maiberger’s voice an almost eerily perfect match to Paige O’Hara’s cartoon vocals, she nailed every mannerism of the character exactly as every little girl in the audience had dreamt her to. While undeniably extremely talented, Maiberger’s real magic lies in being an absolute spot-on casting choice. Her opening of the show in “Belle”, was so visually and vocally familiar that you couldn’t help but immediately fall in love with her. Kudos to Maiberger for being so enchanting and having powerhouse vocals to match. William A. Martin brings Belle’ father, Maurice to life with a quirky, yet sweet portrayal as well, adding to the emotional realism of the rest of the storybook plo
Jeff Brooks, who filled in as Gaston at the Columbus opening night performance as the self-centered hulk of a villain who sets out to win Belle’s hand, was also a great fit. The character, in both versions, is completely one-dimensional, but Brooks has lovely vocals, and paints Gaston as broadly as possible, with the help of his slapstick sidekick, Lefou, played by Jimmy Larkin. Larkin brings a big, acrobatic comedic kick to a show that tends towards the too serious at times and presents a much appreciated lightness. Featured, but accompanied by the nicely rounded townspeople ensemble (Chris Brand, Skye Bronfenbrenner, Kieron Cindric, Taylor D. Colleton, Laura Douciere, Kyle Dupree, Amanda Grace Holt, Stacey Jackson, Kevin Kelly, Brian Krinsky, Brain Martin, Stephanie Moskal, Stephen Petrovich, Sarah Primmer, Andrea Rouch, and Jason Wise), the duo of Brooks and Larkin create one of the most energizing and novel scenes of the evening with the beer stein clinking, self-promotion number “Gaston”. The audience thoroughly enjoyed this number and it served to break up the otherwise largely good, but predictable show.
The simple set, designed by Stanley A. Meyer, with few actual pieces, but intricately beautiful backdrops held its own with its simplicity, even when Belle enters the Beast’s castle, due in no small part to the creative and lovely costuming (Ann Hould-Ward) of the characters there. Hassan Nazari-Robati is delightful as servant turned candlestick Lumiere. He brings a Martin Short-like twist to the character with hysterically funny and over-the-top comedy moments that play so well against the mild mannered Cogsworth, played by James May. Both gentlemen keep the pace of the show moving nicely and are quite entertaining in their respective character roles. Erin Edelle is wonderful as matriarchal teapot Mrs. Potts, and though comparisons to the incomparable Angela Lansbury are hard to resist, Edelle creates a lovely, warm, character that is relatable and familiar, but also unique enough to be interesting to watch. Her “Beauty and the Beast” vocals were perfect for the sweet, simple dance between Belle and the Beast that marks their falling in love. Oddly, Mrs. Potts Child, Chip (Zachary Maitlin/Gabriel Reis) is stuck in a tea cart with only his face showing, a strange visual and even stranger costuming choice, and therefore, though on-stage frequently, is “lost” in the scenes he is in until his eventual transformation back into a real boy.