Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Belle and the Beauty By: Lezah Williamson

Belle and the Beauty By: Lezah Williamson

At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre, Dec. 7/06-Jan. 14/07

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I'm not usually a fan of Broadway-style musical, but when my friend bought tickets for Disney's Beauty and the Beast, I couldn't say no. 'Cuz, quite frankly, I'll try anything once.

I wasn't sure how closely this stage performance would follow the 1991 animated (and Academy Award winning) Disney version, or if instead it would favour one of the many other variations of the story that have been found in a variety of other cultures - 179 different versions, in fact, at last count.

What I found was that this stage version remains very faithful to the Disney classic. In addition to composer Alan Menken and late lyricist Howard Ashman's Best Song and Best Original Score Oscar winners, lyricist Tim Rice has contributed a number of new songs to the stage production. Other than that, the plot and set follow the animated version with little variation.

Opening on Broadway in 1994, the stage version ran at the Palace Theatre for five years, and has since gone on to be performed in 15 other countries (and seven different languages) around the world. This is the second year that Vancouver has hosted the stage version, and many people I talked to this year were their for their second time - and some had seen it even more frequently. It will likely prove to become a Christmas classic tradition in the same vein as productions like The Nutcracker has become.

And the setting doesn't hurt, either. Playing on the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage is pretty much as good as you can get in Vancouver. It's a fantastic old building, rich in cornices and domes and all the other finery one would expect to see in an old building - and old buildings are few and far between in Vancouver, especially ones of this calibre.

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Based on the book by Linda Woolverton and directed by Bill Millerd, this Arts Club Company Production starred Warren Kimmel as the Beast and Amy Wallis as Belle. Special notice must be made of the set designer, Alison Green, and costume designer Rebekkah Sorenson, for I have never seen a production of such quality in our fair city. I was originally under the impression that this production was one of those big-budget travelling road shows; when I found out that it was all local talent, well - you could have knocked me down with a feather.

There were plenty of laughs and also lots of suspenseful moments, so there was enough there in the production to please even the most testy audience member. The singing was fantastic, and again, of exceptional quality.

Overall, this is a good one, and as I said earlier - destined to become a holiday classic.

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