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
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.