Beauty And The Beast at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre

Ruthanne Heyward and Robert Berdahl in Beauty And The Beast. Photo by Heidi Bohenkamp.

Ruthanne Heyward and Robert Berdahl in Beauty And The Beast. Photo by Heidi Bohenkamp.

Beauty and the Beast is a story not quite as old as time. Unlike most fairy tales we know when it was written, who wrote it, and why: in 1740, by Mlle Barbot de Villeneuve as an adult entertainment for French salon society. The story revolves around Belle, the daughter of the village odd-ball, who sacrifices herself to free her father, who has been captured by a Beast. The Beast is in fact a Prince cursed to live as an animal until he learns to love. If you don’t already know the rest of this happily-ever-after tale you can probably guess most of it. Better yet, get thee to Chanhassen to see it unfold on stage.

The musical Disney version of Beauty and the Beast now on the boards at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, directed by Michael Brindisi has everything: competent acting, good atmospheric music (Alan Menken/ Howard Ashman and Tim Rice) and loads of spectacle in the sets and costumes (designed by Nayna Ramey and Rich Hamson respectively). There is plenty of good hoofing and acrobatics on the wide CDT stage by a talented cast choreographed by Tamara Kangas Erickson.

Ruthanne Heyward as the kind and independent Belle has a full mezzo-soprano voice and her solo work in “Is This Home?” is heartwarming. The Prince’s servants and courtiers have been cursed along with him and turned into everything from a teapot to a candelabrum comprise a large cast of classical Disney anthropomorphic characters. They do their best to quell Belle’s fear at being confined in the castle and they literally light up the stage with their dazzling number “Be Our Guest.” The whole stage glitters with gold bric-a-brac and white fabric in faux baroque style.

The other hit tune of the show, the eponymous “Beauty and the Beast,” is a treacle-laden lyric with a leaden melody but Mrs. Potts (Susan Hofflander) delivers the song with sympathy and grace and director Brindisi wisely doesn’t try to stretch the moment.

On the more somber side of the story, Robert Berdahl as the Beast/Prince struts, ruts and rages by turns and moves as if he were an animal struggling to walk on hind legs. It is impossible not to empathize when he sings, “If I Can’t Love Her” possibly the most moving moment in the show. The play balances silliness with seriousness in the right amounts when the Beast is contrasted with the over-bearing Gaston (wonderfully played by Aleks Knezevich), who thinks he deserves Belle’s affection by dint of his grandiose notion of his own worth. Mention must be made of the beer stein choreography in the song “Gaston;” it is the real test of the cast’s singing, dancing and timing skills.

Pacing is the best thing about this production. With the possible exception of the second act scene with the asylum keeper the show is flawlessly timed and its energy level is infectious. From the opening song when the town’s people appear to the end of the story, each and every perfectly placed gesture and the up-tempo music keep the show ticking along. The story may have been originally meant for adult high society centuries ago, but this updated production has something for all ages and is good fun throughout.


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