Theatre Review: A beautiful ‘Beast’ at Ferndale Rep

No one’s slick as GastoN Emma Johnstone, Jessica Kaufman, Gary Bowman and Jessi Shieman worship Gaston in Ferndale Rep’s "Disney’s Beauty and the Beast." Photo by Dan Tubbs

Lauraine Leblanc
Mad River Union

FERNDALE – At the premiere of Jean Coceau’s 1946 film La belle et la bete, Marlene Dietrich is said to have stood up at the moment of the beast’s transformation and cried out, “Where is my beautiful beast?”

It takes some nerve to stage Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on the heels of the much-touted live-action film release. Those who love the Disney versions – both films and the Broadway musical – need not fear: the Beast is alive and well in Ferndale.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast premiered at the Ferndale Repertory Theatre last weekend,  and fans will find all the magic and more in this production. Director Christopher Kehoe pulled together a magnificent cast and crew to present a musical that is beautifully paced, with the enchantment of the original tale lovingly married to the bewitchment of live theatre.

Elizabeth Hedlund steps into the spotlight to flesh out a wry, yet approachable – and, yes, beautiful – Belle. Jaison Chiand likewise is the very embodiment of the Beast, tempering menace with tenderness. The pair played off each other with great chemistry that was a pleasure to watch.

The crowd favorite, however, was Gary Bowman in the role of Gaston. From his arched eyebrow to his booming voice, he was so perfectly cocky and smarmy that you couldn’t help but love him. Likewise, his craven sidekick Lefou, played to perfection by Ivan Gamboa.

The castle servants – Andre LaRoque as Lumiere (his French accent magnifique), Tyler Egerer as Cogsworth (those little mincing steps!), Tina Toomata as Mrs. Potts (shining through a spectacular, though cumbersome costume), Kaden Mangrum as Chip (adorbs!), Adrienne Ralsten as Babette (perfectly cast) and the incomparable Alexandra Blouin as Madame de la Grande Bouche (that voice) – each shone brighter than the next. The musical, as it has live actors rather than animated drawings or CGI, gives much more pathos to the plight of the servants, depicting them as devolving into inanimate objects. Well done, all.

Also worthy of much praise was the live five- piece orchestra, in full view of the audience for once, and the chorus, each of whom brought their own special magic to the mix. The musical includes all the songs from the animated film, plus some composed for the stage, some nice additions that add to the character development.

The set was kept simple and props minimal, the better to showcase the brilliant costumes by designer Maryanne Scozzari, an HSU alum now teaching in Santa Rosa. The costumes look like they cost the Ferndale Rep’s entire annual budget, but Artistic Producing Director Leira Satloff, who has long known Scozzari, was able to bring her magnificent creations to Humboldt with the help of Jeannie Tyrell and Cindy Shepard.

It’s a lot of work, and the costumes hang from the rafters when not being worn, so they don’t collapse from their own weight, said Satloff. It all took up so much space that the men have to run to the scene shop down the alley to change.

All this to say that Ferndale Rep’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a labor of love, and it shows. It’s a show with a lot of heart and a ton of magic – a little slice of Broadway in our backyard.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast runs through June 4. ferndalerep.org, (707) 786-5483







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