Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Beauty and the Beast
Also see Stephanie's review of Arsenic and Old Lace
Cheri Costales, who runs the elite Dance and Theatre group and wrote and directed this show, has taken the "fairy" out of "fairy tale" and created a more interesting story thereby. She has gone back to the original French story, written by one Madame de Villeneuve in 1740. (It was abridged and revised by Madame de Beaumont in 1756, and that's the version that became more famous, although it is still significantly different from the Disney and Cocteau versions.) In the original, the Beast is a prince whose father dies and whose mother is preoccupied by an ongoing war, so she leaves him in the care of a governess who turns out to be an evil fairy. When the prince refuses to marry her, she turns him into the Beast so that no other woman will ever marry him.
In Cheri Costales's remarkably ingenious adaptation, she devises a way for the prince to become a beast without spells or curses or magic. Here, the prince's mother has died some time ago, and the old king is under the influence of an ambitious mistress who is adept at potions and poisons, but is no sorceress. In order to retain power, she convinces the dying king that the prince is still too immature and that she should rule the kingdom for the indefinite future. He agrees, but in his final minutes, stipulates that the prince will ascend to the throne as soon as he gets married. How can she prevent the handsome prince from marrying, or how can she get him to marry her so that she can become the legitimate queen? You have to see the show to find out.
Of course, there is a Belle who comes to the castle to save her father, who made the mistake of cutting a rose in the prince's garden. (The rose is one plot element that is common to all of the various adaptations of the story.) In this production, we are only introduced to Belle just before intermission, which means that there's an awful lot of exposition in the first act. This is a bit of a drawback, and, when combined with a few dance numbers that don't advance the story at all and a lot of poky scene changes (even though there is hardly any scenery to change), the first half drags a bit. The second act moves along more smoothly and becomes quite touching before the happily-ever-after ending.
Since the troupe is called "elite Dance and Theatre," I should have expected dances in the show, but still they came as a surprise. The music (recorded, not live, and louder than it needs to be) sounds either Arabic or Celtic or New Age indie, and the dancing is modernist, not classical ballet. Not many solos, mainly ensemble dances by the servant women and courtiers, to accommodate the fact that in almost every dance troupe there are a lot more women than men. It turns out that this is a hybrid work, both straight play and dance performance, and I can't say that I've seen anything like it before, although this apparently is elite's typical style. I don't really feel qualified to judge the choreography, but it is quite well performed.
Of more interest to me are the dialogue and the acting. Ms. Costales has done a very good job with the script. It's cleverly plotted, and neither stilted nor colloquial, but just right for the subject matter. And she recruited an appealing group of actors.
Michael Kuhn is an attractive prince and "beast" and we root for him all along, even when he's nasty. Alyssa Lamb is very affecting as Belle, and is a fine dancer to boot. Zypherine, the king's mistress, is a more complex character than the archetypal fairy-tale witch. Does she want to marry the prince just out of lust for power, or out of lust for him as well? Cara Sowers plays the role well, but as a stereotypical villainess, and she misses what could be a sympathetic aspect to her character when it becomes evident that the prince only has eyes for Belle.
Alex Hardin is charismatic on stage as the chief counselor, and RoseAnne Vau is warm and natural as the lady-in-waiting. A nice surprise was seeing George Williams, one of Albuquerque's most experienced actors, playing the role of Belle's father.
Mention must be made of the terrific costumesfor 28 cast members! The brilliant colors really liven up the production, which otherwise is a black-box show: no set, and only a few props. Costuming credit goes to Cheri Costales (of course), Linda Downum, Tracey Meisenheimer, and Erin Morrison.
I have only a few suggestions: 1. The mask that the prince wears when he is "the Beast" is a lacy thing that could not possibly convince him that it is covering up his "hideous" face. (If this makes no sense, it's because I don't want to reveal the plot.) A "Phantom"-ish mask would work better. 2. Get zippy with the scene changes, or eliminate most of them. Even five seconds of dead air seems like a long time to the audience. 3. Provide at least a minimal printed program. Elite is expecting every audience member to look up the cast and credits on their phones or on the computer when they get home. Maybe this is the future of live theater, but I still like having a program in hand during the performance, especially with a cast that is almost entirely new to me.
These few quibbles aside, I heartily recommend this Beauty and the Beast. I regret not having seen any of elite's previous productions (they've been around for about 15 years). I thought it was strictly a dance troupe, but now I realize it is a theatrical company as well, and a most creative one at that. Congratulations to Cheri Costales and everyone involved.
Beauty and the Beast, adapted and directed by Cheri Costales, is being presented by elite Dance and Theatre at the North 4th Theater, 4904 4th St. NW (just north of Griegos) in Albuquerque. Through September 19, 2015. Friday at 7:00, Saturday at 2:00 and 7:00. Tickets $18 for adults. Info at www.elitenm.net or 505-440-0434. The Saturday evening performance I attended was very close to sold out, so I would recommend tickets in advance.