Beastly Good

Beauty and the Beast, presented by PCPA

At Solvang Festival Theater, Friday, June 16. Shows through July 16.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

At the center of this excellent PCPA evening of outdoor theater stands neither a beauty nor a beast, but, rather, a candle and a clock. More specifically, David Studwell as Cogsworth and Andrew Philpot who plays Lumiere. They are, for those five readers who don’t know the play or its cartoon antecedent, former humans turned into household items by the same curse that bewitches the castle’s beast. The players aren’t flashy — in fact, the performances are full without being overwhelming. They are secondary plot figures, except in the showstopper “Be Our Guest,” but they work here because they provide warmth in a world of symbols. A child could watch them onstage without the anxiety “live” Disney characters and clowns usually inspire; Cogsworth and Lumiere exude both magic and familiarity.

So does most of the show. James Anest’s Gaston is full of witty touches: you feel like he’s a friend up there, even though he’s the bad guy. It’s weird to think that the Disney animation feature from which this musical oozes is only 14 years old. It seems to belong in another film era, when studios took deep pride in their product. Maybe due to its qualities, enjoying it seems personal; the audience was thrilled when the actors got something right, and looked around awkwardly when something wasn’t quite there. I felt self-conscious only in the scenes where the Beast, played a bit Bert Lahr-ishly by Joseph Foss, squeaked when he should have echoed. Belle, played by Dana Musgrove, was sometimes touching, and yet oddly hard to appreciate. She seemed to be just Belle, not animatronics but not expansive either. Maybe it would have been terrible if she stretched out.

There was no doubting the costumes, though. Imagination and artistry applied richly to make Kathleen Mary Mulligan a teapot and, even more ingenious, to turn Erika Olson into Chip the teacup. Their gradual transformations are managed cleverly, too.

This is the kind of experience we owe our children — live stage magic on a summer night. Watching a show-stopping candle sing with a witty clock makes imaginations stir for the possible. It may not be Jean Cocteau, but it’s better than Barney.

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