Theatre Under The Stars casts a magical spell with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Our favourite “tale as old as time” is simply enchanting.

There’s something enchanted in Stanley Park this summer. It’s the stage production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, presented by Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS). The beloved “tale as old as time” has cast a magical spell over the Malkin Bowl theatre in Stanley Park and you’ll want to catch it before the end of August.

From the opening prologue where the spoiled prince transforms into a beast after snubbing an old beggar woman, to the lively “old provincial town” antics lead by our fav comical villain Gaston, to the spectacular Be Our Guest number performed by household items, and finally to the beautiful love story between Belle and the Beast, TUTS has masterfully brought a cherished Disney story to life.

But this isn’t just a replica of the film or the Broadway stage show. Director Shel Piercy and choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt have infused this production with some creative elements that work very well. They’ve incorporated a ballet ensemble who dance en pointe and do a lovely job of assisting with the narration of the story. Two very strong female dancers continue to dance en pointe throughout the show, including Be Our Guest. And the stage space has been utilized wonderfully, including the incorporation of two towers at both ends of the stage which serve as anchors for the set.

The brilliant cast led by Jaime Piercy as Belle (centre), kick their way in spectacular fashion to Shelley Stewart Hunt's marvelous choreography. Photo credit: Tim Matheson.

Jaime Piercy is ok as Belle. She doesn’t knock your socks off, but she does a sufficient job. Her voice doesn’t compare to the amazing late Amy Wallis who mesmerized Vancouver audiences as Belle for numerous seasons in the Arts Club Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast. But Piercy is strong enough to solidly pull off Belle.

Peter Monaghan is great as the Beast. He has a nicely trained voice and he is quite competent in the acting department. He is also especially cute when he’s in his princely form. Dane Szohner is sufficient as Gaston. He doesn’t make your heart melt, but he’s not bad either.

Peter Monaghan as the Beast and Jaime Piercy as Belle. Photo credit: Tim Matheson.

What really makes this production special is how brilliant the ensemble is. Victor Hunter is simply magnificent as Lumiere. His wonderful movement, vocal delivery and humour is such a treat to watch, and Steven Greenfield's portrayal of Cogsworth is the perfect counterpart to Hunter. Lauren Gula is also really great as Babette, the feather duster, and Caroline Buckingham has the splendid voice needed to pull off the role of Madame de la Grande Bouche, the former opera singer who is turned into a wardrobe.

But no production of Beauty and the Beast is complete without a loveable Mrs. Potts and Sheryl Anne Wheaton does not disappoint. She has just the right amount of warmth and charm, and her rendition of the title song may bring tears to your eyes. And little Bodhi Cutler is adorable as Mrs. Pott’s son, Chip (who has turned into a teacup of course).

The design team masterfully transport audiences into the world of Disney. Photo credit: Tim Matheson.

Interestingly enough, the design team that disappointed me with TUTS’ West Side Story have done an excellent job with Beauty and the Beast. Chris Sinosich’s costume designs are splendid – it’s marvelous to see our beloved Disney characters come to life onstage. And Sinosich has done a fantastic job of designing costumes for the Beast’s servants that allow them to convincingly look like objects (candelabra, clock, teapot, napkins, forks, etc), while still being able to move and dance. King’s lighting design has a magical fairytale quality and one has to wonder if he spent all his efforts working on Beauty and the Beast and didn't have time to spend on his design for West Side Story.

The combination of Sinosich and King’s costume and lighting designs complete Brian Ball’s creative set design, effectively transforming us into the world of Disney. It’s really amazing that the creative team have been able to do such a fine job of presenting Beauty and the Beast on the Malkin Bowl stage, given how the set has to be portable enough to switch out with West Side Story every second day. Like all Disney musicals, Beauty and the Beast really is a beast (no pun intended) to put on, and I’m very impressed with what an excellent job the TUTS team has done.

From left to right: Victor Hunter (Lumiere), Peter Monaghan (Beast), Sheryl Anne Wheaton (Mrs. Potts) and Steven Greenfield (Cogsworth). Photo credit: Tim Matheson.

My favourite aspect of this production of Beauty and the Beast is the choreography and the dancing. Hunt’s choreography is quite superb, and as I mentioned earlier includes pointe, as well as tap, jazz and musical theatre. The production numbers such as Be Our Guest, Human Again and Gaston are spectacular and the talented cast display impressive dance technique, performance and characterization. And despite the limited stage area available for such a large cast, Hunt has done an excellent job of spacing. Dancers have room to do their leaps and kicks, and audiences are able to visually appreciate everything.

It’s impossible to not watch TUTS’ production of Beauty and the Beast without having a huge smile on your face. But beyond the familiar joy you get from the magic of Disney, Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful story of acceptance, not only of others, but for your own weaknesses, and the strength you get from recognizing and appreciating the beauty that lies in others, including yourself. Thank you to TUTS for casting such a wonderful spell over Stanley Park this summer.

Theatre Under The Stars’ (TUTS) production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast runs at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park until August 27.  Visit TUTS’ website for ticket information.