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REVIEW: C’est Belle! Beauty and the Beast à Chanhassen

Gaston (Aleks Knezevich) and company in CDT’s 2016 production of Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Heidi Boehnenkamp.

It’s been 11 years since Chanhassen Dinner Theatres opened its original production of Beauty and the Beast. In the intervening decade, this adaptation of the classic Disney movie musical has appeared on Twin Cities stages via Broadway tours, regional professional productions, and amateur stagings. Now CDT is inviting audiences to be their guest again and forget all about those other B&B digressions. If this was an ex-factor fling, your evening would be steamy indeed. Since CDT is more family friendly, you can bring your family and friends to this affair.

Some of the castle furniture costumes by Rich Hamson. From left to right: Cogsworth (Scott Blackburn), Mrs. Potts (Susan Hofflander), Madame de la Grande Bouche (Emily Rose Skinner), Chip (Jay Soulen), Lumière (Mark King) and Babette (Ann Michels). Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Some of the castle furniture costumes by Rich Hamson. From left to right: Cogsworth (Scott Blackburn), Mrs. Potts (Susan Hofflander), Madame de la Grande Bouche (Emily Rose Skinner), Chip (Jay Soulen), Lumière (Mark King) and Babette (Ann Michels). Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

So what fuels this new production? One of the first impressions is that it looks different; as the Star Tribune’s Graydon Royce has detailed, the celebrated costumes created for the last CDT Beauty and the Beast enjoyed a long and fruitful life on the rental circuit – and ended up quite worn to pieces. This new production therefore features an entirely new set of costumes designed by Rich Hamson, which are quite varied and individual.

The vast majority of the succession of costumes are fun and pleasing to look at. The castle set is eyepopping; you could get lost in gazing at the details in Lumière’s costume, for example. There are some significant anachronisms, however; beyond the use of fabric prints (acceptable), there are a pair of neck ruffs that stick out as sore thumbs. With most of the costumes grounded in mid-/late-18th-century garb, having these Elizabethan elements simply clashes. To be fair, the Disney film itself has some inaccuracies – the famous Belle gown is clearly mid-/late-19th-century high fashion – but simply removing these collars will eliminate a glaring misalignment.

Gaston (Aleks Knezevich) shows off his very real biceps to the Silly Girls (Jessica Frederickson, Larissa Gritti, and Timmy Hays). Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Gaston (Aleks Knezevich) shows off his very real biceps to the Silly Girls (Jessica Frederickson, Larissa Gritti, and Timmy Hays). Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Back to features: At opening night, it wasn’t just the ladies on stage fauning over Aleks Knezevich (Gaston)’s buns and biceps as he marched across the house with deft comic hamming and his silken voice. Knezevich last appeared on the CDT stage as Flotsam in The Little Mermaid, where he showed great comic timing; now in a featured role, he shines, especially in “Gaston” and “Me.” Knezevich is well-paired with his comic foil Daniel S. Hines (Lefou), who tumbles across the stage with great regularity and injects a playful energy every time he’s on stage.

Of course, the narrative pivots around Belle, a role in which Ruthanne Heyward does not disappoint. She is appealing, engaging, energetic, and really fun to watch when put upon in “Me,” a number which is the early highlight of Act I (nod to Tamara Kangas Erickson’s choreography). Her performance is key to the dramatic arc and includes a very moving “A Change in Me.”

The co-starring Beast (Robert O. Berdahl) is an appropriately ominous presence as he stalks the stage; the use of curtains and visual reveals is nicely done. (Also: Great facial prosthetic.) It’s traditional for a reprise to be a shadow of the main song, but Berdahl’s reprise of “If I Can’t Love Her” is even more moving than the original, wrapping the internal agony in beautiful baritone strains.

You may have seen several Beauty and the Beasts, but this one’s well worth making time for. If you can’t love this one, your family and friends might pronounce you a monster and have David Anthony Brinkley throw you in the Maison des Lunes.

Beauty and the Beast is playing now at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and runs through September 24, 2016.

Observations outside the main review:

  • Michael Brindisi’s direction is excellent and spins as smoothly as the dinner saucers.
  • Keith Rice gives a lovely, understated portrayal of Maurice.
  • There’s a certain tragedy in seeing Ann Michels on stage as Babette after seeing her star performance in the title role of Mary Poppins. Would that librettist Linda Woolverton had written more lines or Alan Menken more music for her.
  • Great wolf costumes.

 

Lumière (Mark King) entertains Belle (Ruthanne Heyward) in "Be Our Guest." Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Lumière (Mark King) entertains Belle (Ruthanne Heyward) in “Be Our Guest.” Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Belle (Ruthanne Heyward) and the Beast (Robert O. Berdahl) share a first dance. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Belle (Ruthanne Heyward) and the Beast (Robert O. Berdahl) share a first dance. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Basil Considine
Basil Considine is the Twin Cities Arts Reader's Performing Arts Editor and the Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic. Before joining the Arts Reader, he was the Twin Cities Daily Planet's Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic and a contributing writer for The Boston Music Intelligencer. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.
http://basilconsidine.org
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