If you haven’t had a chance in the last 104 years to check out the Mountain Play, now’s as good a time as any. This year brings an enjoyable production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to the Cushing Memorial Amphitheater atop Mt. Tamalpais and while it’s a trek to get there, it’s a trek worth taking.
Based on a French fairytale (which is the source of innumerable film, television, and stage adaptations) and adapted by Disney into a highly successful animated film in 1991, it premiered on Broadway in 1994 to great commercial – if not critical – success and was the first of what now seems to be an endless stream of Disney musicals.
The tale as old as time is of a romantic triangle consisting of Belle (Chelsea Holifield), an unwanted suitor and local him-bo (Jeff Weisen) and a reclusive prince/beast (Daniel Barrington Rubio). The prince, cursed to be a beast until he learns to love and be loved in return, lives a solitary life in his castle with his only companions being his staff who, apparently also cursed, happen to be transmogrifying into various inanimate household objects. Circumstances bring the lovely Belle to him and it becomes a race against time to beat the curse’s final outcome – permanent beastliness.
If you know the film, you know the show. All the characters are here albeit with some slight modifications. The eight songs from the film by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are joined by six additional numbers by Menken and Tim Rice. The action takes place in either the castle or a small village with a three-part revolving stage facilitating a quick change between the two.
We’re talking a stage adaptation of a cartoon here, folks, so there isn’t a lot of depth to be found. The leads, as written, are pretty bland but Holifield and Barrington Rubio’s strong vocal performances make up for what their characters lack. Disney villains often provide actors with the most memorable roles and Jeff Weisen is a lot of fun as the strutting blowhard Gaston. You almost, almost feel bad for him at his ‘exit’.
The show’s most entertaining moments are provided by the supporting cast with an assist by costumer Michelle Navarre-Huff. Buzz Halsing’s ‘Cogsworth’, Zachary Isen’s ‘Lumiere’, Samantha Cooper’s ‘Babbette’, Jennifer Boesing’s ‘Mrs. Potts’ and Jenny Matteucci’s ‘Madame de la Grande Bouche’ bring color, energy and humor to every scene they’re in, culminating in the terrific ensemble number “Be Our Guest”.
Director Jay Manley meets most of the challenges provided with staging a large-scale musical in the cavernous 4,000 seat amphitheater. The nuance and color that the element of lighting can provide is sorely missed from this production but what are you going to do when your only source is the sun? David Möschler directs a 22-piece orchestra who deliver but no amount of amplification can reproduce the sound and sense of an orchestra filling a theater. These sacrifices are somewhat offset by the magnificent surroundings of Mt. Tamalpais State Park
Attending The Mountain Play production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast requires a commitment of time and effort well in excess of a usual theatre-going venture. It can involve a bus trip, hiking, picnicking, and the risk of sunburn and poison oak. The reward is a pleasant afternoon of joyous, family-friendly theatre.
Be their guest.
The Mountain Play’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays at Mt. Tamalpais State Park’s Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre Sunday afternoons through June 18.
For important information about parking, transportation and the venue, go to mountainplay.org