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Beauty and the Beast Review

Tale as old as time on Mt. Tam

Address: Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Phone: 415-383-1100

Beauty and the Beast—Beneath the Surface

Daniel Barrington Rubio as the Beast and Chelsea Holifield as Belle in the Mountain Play's production of
Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Review by Judith M. Wilson
Photos: Mountain Play

Kids will be thrilled with Beauty and the Beast. Based on an old French fairy tale by Jeanne Marie LePrince de Beaumont, it has a beast, a villain, a beautiful young woman and even a talking teapot, and the story—a tale as old as time—requires a prince who has become a beast to find true love before a rose sheds its last petal if he is to once again become a prince. Combined with action and music, it has all the elements to make it a magical brew for young audiences, and it has some subtle messages about character as well.

This year’s Mountain Play is Disney’s version of the story, with lyrics by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and that makes it good family fare. Based on a book by Linda Woolverton, it doesn’t have the heavy themes and heartbreak of a production like last year’s West Side Story, nor does it have a roster of big blockbuster tunes, but it does have songs the audience will enjoy. A standout is Be My Guest, a memorable song with a cast of forks, knives, napkins and even a corkscrew, which make it into a visual spectacle that’s as much a part of the appeal as the song itself.

Jay Manley does an admirable job of direction, dealing with a large cast and multiple set changes, as characters move back and forth between the village, the forest and the castle. The orchestra, with musical direction by David Möschler, is at the side of the stage again this year, so the audience can see the musicians producing their own special magic, and the crew is also in full view, tugging and pushing pieces of the set as it makes the transition from one location to another. Both are features of the Mountain Play that give the audience a glimpse of what often happens behind the scenes.

Chelsea Holifield plays Belle as a spunky, courageous young woman who isn’t afraid to be different. She is able to read and loves books, which was rare at the time the story takes place, especially for a woman. “She reads books. … This is a passion of mine. I believe that stories are the most important creative engagement we have in humanity,” says Sara Pearson, executive director of the Mountain Play. She also believes that music makes stories more impactful, and the combination is the best way of reaching people and having them see people with empathy. And that is what children will see in Belle. She has the strength of character it takes to see the value of a person, even though it’s hidden. “She’s one of the standout girl heroes in literature,” says Pearson.

Daniel Barrington Rubio is the prince, who treats an old woman unkindly and then discovers she’s really a beautiful enchantress, played by Erika Lamkin, who turnes him into a hairy beast to teach him a lesson. His range of emotions goes from angry and intimidating to tender and kind as he looks within and gains self-knowledge. Jeff Weisen is Gaston, the village’s conceited bully, who learns he can’t always get what he wants. In addition, the cast includes several characters who have fallen under the spell of the enchantress along with their master and become walking, talking household objects. Among them are Jennifer Boesing as Mrs. Potts, the teapot; Elijah Cooper as her son, Chip, the teacup; Zachary Isen as Lumière (above left, with Chelsea Holifield as Belle), the candle; Buzz Halsing as Cogsworth, the clock; and Samantha Cooper as Babette, the feather duster. Audience members can meet the cast after the show.

Michelle "Miska" Navarre-Huff's costumes are delightful and make clear what many of the characters are. Her costume design gives a pack of wolves, who have a key role in the plot, a particulary menacing appearance.

This is the Mountain Play’s 104th year, and it runs every Sunday through June 18; show time is at 2 p.m. Pre-show entertainment features Jerry Hannan and Kelly Peterson on May 28, Shelley Doty on June 4, Musaic on June 11 and Marin Summer Theater on June 18.

Puppet shows and face painting are part of the fun, and food and drinks are available for sale on the mountain. Parking on Mt. Tamalpais is limited; however, a shuttle bus takes theatergoers from Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley to the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre before the show and back again after. The more adventurous can hike down the mountain to Mill Valley.

Magic Mountain Music Festival

In addition to Beauty and the Beast, the Mountain Play is offering the Magic Mountain Music Festival on Saturday, June 10. A celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, the day will feature Jefferson Starship and a production of Hair in concert.

To find out more about both of the Mountain Play's productions and to purchase tickets, go to www.mountainplay.org.

To see previews of Beauty and the Beast and the Magic Mountain Music Festival, go to www.marinartsandculture.com.