Beauty and the Beast
Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Through January 21
If you want tangible proof of the benefits of diversity casting, go see this homespun, upbeat production of that perennial tuner by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Beauty and the Beast, now up at Casa 0101 in Boyle Heights. The night I attended, it played to a totally sold out house, consisting almost entirely of folks from the community — proof that if you reflect your audience, they will come to your show.
And the audience did appear to adore this charming, though rather workmanlike iteration of the celebrated fairy tale. It’s a romance (fused with Stockholm Syndrome), in which a young girl is imprisoned by a vicious creature and — after he roars at and menaces her — they fall in love. It’s probably best not to analyze the story’s psychological trappings too deeply; in fact, director Rigo Tejeda understandably opts for a straightforward rendering which relies on the youthful cast to sell itself.
For those who may have lived under a rock, or whose parents forbade them to watch anything Disney, the play is an adaptation of the animated movie (the less said about the recent live action remake, the better), in which delightful French lass Belle (Andrea Somera, in a lovely and unpredictably fiery performance) agrees to become the prisoner of the Beast (Omar Mata). Belle’s motive is to save the life of her father, quirky inventor Maurice (Luis Marquez). Fortunately, living as the Beast’s prisoner turns out to involve inhabiting a gorgeous castle where one is served by talking plates, tea pots, clocks, and wardrobes. And, it turns out that the Beast is under a curse and must remain hideous unless he and Belle fall in love. This eventually happens, amidst many songs.
Although the show is executed with heart and passion, the lack of professional experience and strong creative instincts in some members of the ensemble more than occasionally show through. This is particularly obvious in the blocking and choreography, which are clumsy and rather rough. The orchestrations are prerecorded, which gives the piece a Karaoke-like feel that only the more energetic cast members are able to overcome. Acoustics are also an issue: Everyone wears those horrific wraparound mics, and the pops and crackles from the unevenly balanced sound mixing inevitably distracts from many musical numbers, especially those involving the large cast. And while many of the songs are energetically sung, one worries about the actors’ voices, which become ragged and seem exhausted by curtain.
Still, Somera’s Belle really is delightful; she brings a power and ferocity to her character, usually depicted as plucky but one dimensional. Somera particularly connects with the ballads like “Is This Home?” Mata’s Beast is aptly savage, though I feel rather sorry that another actor takes over after he transforms into the “handsome” prince. In supporting roles, Andreas Pantazis’s lusciously pompous and gloating Gascon combines goofiness with a dangerous undercurrent, while Caleb Green’s Lumiere, an appealingly slithery living candlestick boasts great comic timing.
CASA 0101 Main Stage, 2102 East First Street, Boyle Heights; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; (323) 263-7684 or www.casa0101.org. Running time: two hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.