Theatre Review: Media Theatre’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast misses the mark on enchantment
When Philly Review was asked to attend Disney’sBeauty and the Beast at The Media Theatre in Media, I was going to pass it off to one of our staff writers. Full disclosure: I worked at The Media Theatre/Rockwell Productions (same artistic staff as now which includes Jesse Cline, Patrick Ward, and Roger Ricker) back in ‘94 and into 2000. One of my first professional gigs after college. I did not have a good experience, but that’s a story for another time. I am, however, a champion of theatre being in Delaware County and this theatre in particular for being a jumping off point for young artists.
For the last year, I submerged myself into the professional Philly Theatre scene. I wanted to better myself as a director, a producer, and a reviewer. Off the cuff, what had concerned me most about The Media Theatre was their lack of involvement in the theatre community. With hearing that the company was joining Theatre Philadelphia and knowing that the Chairman of the Board has visions for the theatre, I felt compelled to attend and instead of passing this show to someone on my team, I decided to review this one myself.
Synopsis from MTI: “The classic story tells of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed into his former self. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity.”
I wish I could tell you my experience watching BATB tilted the teeter totter off the ground, but sadly, it didn’t. For an Equity house, there simply were too many distractions. Specifically, the production value in not up to speed for a professional house such as The Media Theatre.
To start, the set and costumes are credited to Fourth Wall Scenic. If this were a high school production, I would certainly agree that the set, the drops, and the costumes were of value. With such a large show, you have to change scenes. The use of a backdrop for the outdoor scenery was utterly dreadful. Firstly, it was loud. Think shower curtain loud. Second, it was never in the same place and always wrinkled. It needed to be taught to be effective. The castle which should have been embellished and magical fell short. One of the most magical moments of the story is Beast taking Belle to the library. Picture this: one bookcase with one dimensional painted books. No bells and whistles here.
As far as costumes, they looked like they came out of a mail to order catalogue. Some were nicely put together, if they were of regular clothing period. The enchanted costumes were made of foam and Velcro and something I’d expect at a school level. Media Theatre is known in the community for zero wing space and uncomfortable dressing rooms. There were make shift wings made in an attempt to hide fog machines and set pieces, however sitting center, I saw everything. In addition, the make shift flats did not appear to be of the same design as the rest of the show. Colors and textures didn’t add up.
Steven Spera (Lighting Designer) had several interesting lighting elements in his arsenal. Yet, they were oddly used. Instead of gradually fading in or out, most scenes the cues were harsh. The LEDs used didn’t transition well but did add some lovely colors, particularly to the castle scenes. The most interesting choice was the opening of both acts with moving LED lights with special effects being shown on the ceiling. There was no apparent rhyme or reason to it, other than perhaps to keep the audience’s attentions while the orchestra was playing. If these lights were just shone on the grand ceiling that would be of great choice. However, these were highlighting lighting grids and instruments that were blocking the grandeur of the re-master Media Theatre ceiling.
Carl Park’s sound design was hit or miss. I think mostly due to delayed cue execution. Orchestra seemed subdued, some actors were miked and others weren’t leaving balance off, and all the Beast voice effects are from the audience instead of on stage where the action was.
Director/Choreographer Dann Dunn is a frequent flyer at Media Theatre. His ensemble numbers were on point. Oddly, my most favorite was the opening section of “The Mob Song.” Unfortunately, the big showstopper, “Be Our Guest” was underwhelming. I attribute that to the costumes. Having followed several of his productions, I refer to his chorus girls as the Dann Dunn girls. Kimberly Maxson and Kristen Smith are two amazing showgirls, playing Silly Girls and dancers in the ensemble. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Tall, leggy, big smiles. Thanks to Dunn he’s keeping dance alive. He truly is one of the only choreographers who understands true musical theatre dance.
Title song, “Beauty and the Beast” was beautifully sung by Hillary Parker (Mrs. Potts). I would have wished she were placed upstage and within the sightline of the waltz as she continued to upstage herself by being places so far down stage right. Some other highlights: Jarrett Jay Yoder’s interpretation of the Beast was one of the finest I’ve seen. Most play him as a dark curmudgeon. Yoder’s has heart and humor. Stephen Fala as Lafou was delightfully funny and pliable. Kelly Briggs (Broadway veteran) as Cogsworth is a sheer delight. Charming, and commands the stage. Other notables, Ronnie Keller as Monsieur D’Arquel, JP Dunphy as Lumiere, and Adrian Henry as Chip provided nuanced characters to aid to the tale.
Alana J. Smith played Belle, and although a sweet voice, allowed others to take scenes away from her. There was empowerment missing in her portrayal. Playing Gaston was Bob Stineman. A little on the older side for the role, didn’t fill out the physique, and his musical numbers fell flat. His character should command the stage. Rather the Silly Girls and Lafou managed to continually take the focus during his storytelling.
The most climactic moment of the story comes at the end. This left many people around us scratching our heads. Spoiler alert! Did the rose petals fall to reveal time passing or not? How did Gaston succumb to his fate? Did Beast get stabbed? Why was the actor standing in during the fight scene so apparently shorter than the real actor playing the Beast? Why was the fog so thick that we couldn’t see any of the transformation or reveals?
I hold an Equity house to higher standards and I think that’s fair. If this was just about storytelling, it did an ok job (other than the end). But my reviews are about quality of theatre and the standards that I expect to see when seeing a professionally billed production. As much as I wanted my perception of this 20+ year old establishment to change, simply, it did not.
I encourage you to support theatre at any and all venues. I would just go in knowing what to expect in order to enjoy your night at the theatre.
Venue plus: Bar and Snacks! Located in the heart of Media on State Street. Plenty of places to go before and after performances.
The Media Theatre Presents
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
November 15, 2017-January 14, 2018
Various days and times: Details at http://tickets.mediatheatre.org/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=48476
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