‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center by Amanda Gunther

Be their guest! Be their guest! And put their spectacular show to the test! I’m certain it will pass with flying colors as NETworks presents Disney’s Beauty and The Beast. Landing at Hippodrome Theatre as a part of the 12/13 Broadway Series through Broadway Across America, this sensational timeless classic will appeal to audience of all ages. The story of a Prince cursed by a beautiful enchantress; the story of a girl who craves adventure so much more than her little provincial home can offer; and when their stories entwine its simply magic. With all of the lively music you remember from the movie and several original songs that are equally as mesmerizing, by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, this fairy tale will keep you in awe all the way to the happy ending.

 Darick Pead (Beast) and Hilary Maiberger (Belle). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Darick Pead (Beast) and Hilary Maiberger (Belle). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Directed by Rob Roth, an original creator of the Broadway production, the show swings into town with its French-Countryside Fairytale outfitted in the full regalia fitting of a Disney show. The vibrant costumes, the whimsical set design, and all of the enchantments necessary to make such a fantastical show a smashing success are present. There’s boisterous singing, brilliant dancing, and characters that you just can’t help but fall in love with.

Scenic Designer Stanley A. Meyer creates an astonishing wonderland right before the audience’s eyes. The rustic charm of the little town springs up from the stage like pieces in a pop-up book; the designs cartoonish, both warm and inviting. Meyer crafts a stark contrast between the bright village and the Beast’s dark lair. The castle is designed with tragic beauty; warped spirals and twisted set pieces as darkly closed off as the beast’s own heart and yet awe striking in their allure.

Adding to the enchantments is Tony Award-Winning Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward. Capturing the essence of whimsy in all of her designs, Hould-Ward encompasses the magical world of the enchanted objects with a vivacious streak of glitter and glamour. Dancers become silverware with her dazzling designs, and humans become functioning objects — her most stunning work in this category being the Candelabra costume for Lumiere and the sprightly pink-accented teapot for Mrs. Potts. Hould-Ward also creates stunning outfits of regal elegance for both Belle and the Beast during their magical date; easily reflecting the gorgeous and familiar designs of the original animation.

It wouldn’t be a Disney spectacular on the stage if it weren’t for all of the dancing. Choreographer Matt West sees to it that each big musical number is a stunning success. From the mesmerizing kick lines and can-cans during “Be Our Guest” to the insanely complex mug-clinking tap routine of “Gaston” West leaves no moment unfulfilled when it comes to big dance numbers. There’s even synchronized march dancing for “The Mob Song” giving the ensemble a fearsome movement about them as they plow through the woods to the castle on a murderous mission. West’s crowning glory is that epic finale in “Be Our Guest” featuring top hats, a kick-line, champagne popping and the extravagance of a big Broadway style finish.

The ensemble is a powerful group of singing dancers with a rich warm sound that reflects high energies throughout the entire performance. Whether singing as over-eager townsfolk in “Belle” or prancing about in delight during “Human Again” there’s never a dull moment among them. Featured prominently in such numbers as “Gaston” is the trio of ‘Silly Girls’ (Taylor D. Colleton, Amanda Grace Holt, and Stephanie Moskal). These trio of lovely ladies spark quite the bout of contagious giggles — their flirtatious antics and fawning foolishness over Gaston is nothing short of hilarious and is seen all throughout the performance but especially in “Gaston.”

While the Silly Girls may be the queens of nonsense the King of Fools comes in compact sidekick format, Lefou (Jimmy Larkin). Pandering to the comedic aspects of slapstick, Larkin yucks up the laughs to be found in his character’s tomfoolery. Flipping and flopping over himself in a manner most laughable, Larkin provides a world of entertainment, adding to his character a nasally voice which makes him meager and meek by comparison to the macho Gaston. Ever a leaping loon his antics are thoroughly enjoyable, especially when paired up with the brute in songs like “Gaston” and “Gaston (Reprise).

There’s no man in this show quite as manly and you can definitely see his spare biceps — the boorish brainless buffoon Gaston (Joe Hager) Disney’s perfect narcissist. With a bold belt to all of his songs, Hager’s voice echoes with deep rich tones during “Me” a song where he spends each verse and chorus showering himself with egotistical praise. Hager’s self-absorbed portrayal of the villain is only outdone by his sheer energetic enthusiasm to woe Belle. But a darker side also prevails when Hager lends his deep booming voice to “The Mob Song” unleashing a ferocious sounding terror into the lyrics that really steers the village people into frightened chaos. Hager glazes his character with a fabulous flare, driving this over the top self-loving villain into the category of ‘handsome hunk we all love to hate.’

The true enchantments of this performance can be found in the five stunning ‘objects’ of Beast’s castle. Starting with the larger than life Madame de la Grande Bouche (Shani Hadjian) we find levels of amusement stacked up in her many drawers. The once-been diva now turned bureau gives a lovely performance of up and down emotions that are hilarity at its finest.

Babette (Jessica Lorion) the French Maid turned Feather Duster is a saucy fun and flirty character who is constantly having a tiff with Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Robati). Their on-again-off-again chemistry is perfect for the musical, creating a little side plot of funny love during the more light-hearted scenes of the show. Nazari-Robati is a brilliantly charming character who embodies the passions of the candelabra to perfection. He is sleek and suave, particularly when waxing poetic or trying to be flirty and charming with Belle.

Nazari-Robati is the energetic foil to Cogsworth (James May) the much more tightly wound character of the two. The pair are the more sophisticated comic duo in the show, making for loveable laughs throughout. May lends his prim British accent to Nazari-Robati’s sliding French sound as they embody the characteristics of the clock and candlestick so well loved from the film. Their singing voices are pretty spectacular as well, especially during “Human Again” where they really get to show the audience their charming sides. “Something There” is an additional occasion where these fellas are at their finest, paired up with the sweet melodic voice of Mrs. Potts (Erin Edelle) who gives a superb rendition of the title song “Beauty and the Beast.”

The title characters bring a world of astonishing talent to this production. Playing The Beast is Darick Pead. A passionately versatile performance is given throughout the show, starting as the cold dark and almost sinister creature of the night, shadowed by his warped and lonely heart, slowly melting into this charming if a bit humorous loving man. Pead’s voice made me misty-eyed with his singing. “How Long Must This Go On?” welcomes the audience to the dark torment of his soul as his rich velvety voice expresses the deep recesses of his pain-filled heart. And during “If I Can’t Love Her” and its reprise Pead again made me tear up as he passionately poured out his feelings.

Paired with Hilary Maiberger as Belle, the couple have a beautiful dynamic relationship that grows and while they never truly share a duet, they do sing in shared songs, “Something There” and “Home (Reprise)” both of which are stunning to be heard.

Maiberger is the classic fairytale heroine that makes every girl wish they were a princess. Her bright voice and enthusiastic approach to the character is a brilliant addition to this production. With a crystal clear sense of pitch and diction she sings each song with the epitome of cheer and hope. Holding her own in the can-can dancers lineup during “Be Our Guest” Maiberger proves herself to be multi-talented as both a tremendous singer and elegant dancer. Her body screams with the yearning for adventure during “Belle (Reprise)” and her vocal range is beyond impressive; every song explored with deep emotions that radiate through her voice into her face and physicality. One of the most stunning songs, an original for the musical, “A Change In Me” moves the audience deeply as she belts out her feelings to the world about how she has indeed changed. Nothing short of a stellar performance is delivered from this Belle.

The enchantment won’t last long for all good stories must come to an end, but be sure to see Beauty and The Beast before the storybook closes for good.

Hilary Maiberger(Belle) and the cast of Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
Hilary Maiberger (Belle) and the cast of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.

Beauty and The Beast plays through February 3, 2013 at Hippodrome Theatre  at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 North Eutaw Street in Downtown Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 547-7328, or purchase them online.


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