Tuesday, November 8, 2022

'Beauty and the Beast' a hit for all ages at Palo Alto Players


Belle (Sam Mills) with her father, Maurice (Michael Johnson). (Scott Lasky photo)

Palo Alto Players’ production of “Beauty and the Beast” has everything needed for an enjoyable musical theater experience, thanks to noteworthy acting, singing, dancing, an absorbing fairy tale story and more.

The Nov. 6 matinee added a the-show-must-go-on twist when Arturo Montes, the understudy for Michael D. Reed in the lead role of the Beast, learned just that morning that Reed was ailing and couldn’t perform.

Hence Montes stepped in, and if one hadn’t been told he’s the understudy, one never wouldn’t have noticed. He filled the role admirably with no discernable missteps. He fully deserved the standing ovation he received at the curtain call, as did the entire cast.

The play is based on a 1991 Disney animated film with a book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.

Its back story is told as a fairy tale read aloud as the book pages are projected onto an upstage screen.

A handsome but vapid prince refused an old woman’s appeal for help. In turn, she placed a spell on him, changing him into a beast and transforming his household staff. The spell could be lifted only when he found someone to love who would love him in return.

In the nearby village, Belle (Sam Mills) is regarded as strange because she is her own person who likes to read. Moreover, her father, Maurice (Michael Johnson), an aspiring inventor, is called eccentric.

The villain in this piece is the handsome but vain, self-centered Gaston (Frankie Mulcahy), joined by his foolish henchman, Lefou (John Ramirez-Ortiz). Every woman in town except Belle swoons over him, so he decides he’s going to marry her.

Belle and the Beast meet after her father stumbles into the Beast’s castle and is held prisoner.

Much of the whimsy in this work comes from costumes (from Children’s Musical Theater San Jose) for the household staff. Mrs. Potts (Juliet Green) is part teapot. Lumiere (Arjun Sheth) is becoming a candelabra. Cogsworth (Ben Chau-Chiu) is becoming a clock. Similar changes affect others.

Adroitly director by PAP artistic director Patrick Klein, this production features some exciting choreography by Stacey Reed. It’s evident in such songs as “Gaston” and especially “ Be Our Guest” with its dancing dinnerware.

Daniel Hughes serves as musical and vocal director and conductor. The fluid set is by Scott Ludwig with lighting by Abby May. Angela Yeung’s sound design can be too loud, distorting lyrics.

Everyone in the 24-member cast sings and dances well, and most of them act well. In short, this is a must-see show suitable for all but the very youngest viewer, as evidenced by the large number of youngsters at the matinee.

Running about two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission, “Beauty and the Beast” will continue through Nov. 20 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.