The theater arts department at Santa Rosa Junior College has been struggling as of late, facing budget cuts and staff reductions, but one wouldn't know it from the lavish, lovely treasure that is Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Just opened, the production is one of the most touching and dazzling North Bay musicals of 2012.
Then again, the tale of the Beauty and the Beast has been dazzling people for over 270 years, ever since the novel, by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, was first published in Paris. Since then, the lurid tale of a monster in love with a beautiful maiden has evolved, morphed and mellowed. Today, the best-known adaptation is the 1991 Disney film, the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. When Disney announced a lavish Broadway adaptation, many assumed the move was a crass commercial money grab.
The big surprise? The stage version far surpassed the movie in its depth of character and heights of emotion. Several new songs were added—including the Beast's gorgeous lament "If I Can't Love Her"—and several of the smaller characters were given satisfying arcs and clever backstories.
In the whimsical SRJC version, directed by Laura Downing-Lee with an eye-popping sense of visual spectacle, the strong, committed cast collaborates with the technical team—the costumes and sets are themselves worth the cost of admission—to unveil a show that deftly transcends its occasional small opening-weekend bugs (microphone issues and occasional off-key squeaks from Richard Riccardi's otherwise full-spirited live orchestra).
As Belle, the bookish-but-beautiful oddball of her small French village, Petaluma's Brittany Law is perfectly cast. Alternately charming, fearless and believably conflicted, her Belle makes a perfect balance to Zachary Hasbany's emotionally volatile Beast. At six-foot-seven, the actor is an imposing presence, and his impressive baritone, though struggling through his few high notes, powerfully conveys the aching heart beneath the monster's fangs and fur.
As the Beast's enchanted servants, all gradually turning into pieces of furniture and kitchenware, the ensemble is delightful, tackling the potentially ridiculous spectacle with so much joy and enthusiasm one can't help but be enchanted.
Kicking off the holidays, SRJC's lovely and deeply moving fairy tale is a fitting transition into a season of magic and fantasy.