The half a million dollars that the North Carolina Theatre invested in its current production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, starring Raleigh native Lauren Kennedy and Tony Award® nominee Alan Campbell, is money well spent. This visually sumptuous production, with soaring sets and dazzling costumes from the Music Theatre of Wichita, looks like a million bucks. This fractured fairy tale set to music sounds like a million bucks, too, thanks to the spirited accompaniment of NCT resident musical director/conductor McCrae Hardy and a highly talented orchestra that makes the title tune, “Be Our Guest,” and other gems from the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman-Tim Rice songbook really sparkle.
Lauren Kennedy, with her big Broadway voice, makes the winsome, bookish Belle a soaring heroine for the ages. Her real-life husband, Alan Campbell, is a fine tenor himself and an absolute delight as a handsome but spoiled, self-centered, spiteful Prince transformed into a ferocious Beast, with horns and tail and matted hair worse than radio talkmeister Don Imus on his worst bad hairday.
Kennedy’s characterization of Belle is fresh and funny and totally winning; and so are Campbell’s antics as the temperamental roaring Beast, hideous on the outside, but very, very human on the inside. It takes a sensitive soul like Belle to see the good in this nightmarish creature.
Ron Lee Savin is amusing as Belle’s father, Maurice, an eccentric inventor whose revolutionary designs are way too advanced for the backward section of 18th-century France, where this show is set. Rob Lorey is a stitch as Lumiere, the saucy candlestick who shamelessly flirts with the curvaceous Babette (bubbly Jessica Leigh Brown) the wiggly human duster; and Tim Maculan is very, very funny as Cogsworth the clock, the stuffy little puffed-up servant in charge of the Beast’s enchanted castle, where the loyal retainers of the Young Prince (John Arthur Greene) have been cursed by the same ugly old Beggar Woman-turned-beautiful Enchantress (Ashley Adamek) to take the form of household objects.
If the Beast can fall in love, and be loved in return, the spell will cease and he will once again become the handsome Prince and the residents of the castle will resume their human shapes. But if the Beast cannot find love by the time the last petal falls from the enchanted red rose that once upon a time, the freezing old Beggar Woman offered the haughty Young Prince for a night’s stay in his warm castle, the Beast will remain a beast and his servants will gradually lose all of their humanity and become the inanimate objects that they are now trapped inside.
Jeanne Lehman is a pip as Mrs. Potts the teapot, and young Tyler Mann is sweet as her cheerful son Chip, trapped in the form of a chipped teacup. Pauline Cobrda is a scene-stealer as Madame de la Grande Bouche, the formidable opera singer transformed into a gigantic armoire; but Gregg Goodbrod nearly steals the show with his smirking, swaggering, supremely self-satisfied impersonation of Gaston the mighty hunter and lover and a legend in his own mind.
Bryce Bermingham expertly executes many a hilarious pratfall as Gaston’s long-suffering Harpo Marx-like assistant LeFou; Sara Braslow, Lisa Kassay, and Lauren Zapko are a scream as Three Silly Girls who dog Gaston’s every giant step; Robbie Roby has a couple of acrobatic cameos as a tumbling Doormat; and Ronn K. Smith is thoroughly hissable as Monsieur D’Arque, the bribable proprietor of the loony bin where Gaston wants to send Maurice.
Director Matt Lenz, choreographer Michele Lynch, and assistant choreographer Casey Hushion take a fresh, new approach to the material that generates more energy and more humanity from the highly talented NCT cast led by Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell. The result is a very, very human interpretation of a bodacious Broadway musical based on an Academy Award-winning animated film. The extraordinary style and wit that director Matt Lenz employs in this piece, and the vivacity that choreographer Michele Lynch and assistant choreographer Casey Hushion inject into the show’s production numbers, make this regional-theater production a show to cherish and one of NCT’s finest outings to date.
Technical director William Pate, lighting designer Sean Roberson, costumer Annie Bruskiewitz, sound designer Jonathan Parke, and especially hair/wig/makeup designer Patti DelSordo also make sizable contributions to transforming the North Carolina Theatre’s home-grown presentation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast into a true musical spectacular. Don’t miss this highlight of the 2005 theater season.
The North Carolina Theatre presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Tuesday-Friday, May 2-6, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 7, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 8, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $20-$65. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950 or http://www.nctheatre.com/showstickets.asp [inactive 1/06]. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/index.asp [inactive 1/06]. Lauren Kennedy: http://www.laurenkennedy.com/ [inactive 12/05]. Broadway Show: http://disney.go.com/disneytheatrical/beautyandthebeast/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?id=4602. Official Movie Site: http://disneyvideos.disney.go.com/moviefinder/products/2496203.html [inactive 6/08]. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101414/.
Raleigh’s own Lauren Kennedy and husband, Alan Campbell, will play the title roles in North Carolina Theatre’s gala $500,000 production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which opens tonight in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and runs through May 8th. Both are big Broadway actors, and proud parents of a new one-year-old daughter named Riley Rose.
Campbell and Kennedy relish the opportunity to work together in Lauren’s hometown, where doting grandparents K.D. and Sara Lynn Kennedy (for whom the Kennedy Theatre in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts is named) can spoil Riley Rose even more than Alan and Lauren spoil her in their home in Westchester County, outside New York City. Kennedy and Campbell say that they have acted together several times before — indeed, that’s how they met in the first place — but this show is the first time that they have ever played cartoon characters.
“You don’t play [Belle or the Beast] like a cartoon character,” insists Alan Campbell. He adds, “The cartoon stuff comes in the sets and the costumes. We’re playing ‘the truth’ of these people.… This is a really well-written story about the transformative quality of looking below the surface and seeing the beauty in everyone.”
Lauren Kennedy agrees, “I think [Disney’s Beauty and the Beast] is a very adult story about how to treat other people.”
Once upon a time, at the beginning of this familiar story set long, long ago in France, a selfish and self-centered young Prince haughtily declines to shelter a piteously ugly old Beggar Woman in his castle in exchange for a single red rose. (Instead, he would let her freeze to death on his doorstep!) For the Prince’s callousness toward the weak and outcast, the wretched creature, who is really a beautiful Enchantress in disguise, puts a powerful spell on him and his castle, and leaves him the enchanted red rose in a glass dome.
The Enchantress transforms the Prince into a fearsome Beast and turns his faithful retainers into animated household objects, such as clocks and teapots. Unless the Beast can learn to love — and be loved in return — before the last petal of the enchanted rose falls, he will remain a beast forever. Meanwhile, his loyal retainers — over time — are gradually losing all of their humanity and actually becoming inanimate objects.
“I think my character was probably a spoiled, undisciplined youth who made a very, very bad decision,” Alan Campbell says, “because he had no love in his heart.” He adds, “When Belle comes along, she is more of a modern woman. She sees the good that was in [the Beast/Prince] all along; and, in seeing that, she falls in love with him. That is the liberating, transformative power of love.”
Lauren Kennedy adds, “Like many Disney heroines, Belle is a girl who doesn’t have a mother. Her father is a [crackpot] inventor, and they travel around the country.… They are seen as different and odd.… She [even] reads books.
“Then her father gets lost, and she goes into the woods to find him and stumbles upon the Beast’s [enchanted] castle,” Kennedy says. “She’s scared of the Beast at first, but they have something important in common. She understands how it feels to be different and lonely, and she sees beneath his [ghastly] exterior and falls in love with him.”
Lauren Kennedy, who literally cut her acting teeth in an NCT production at age 7, is a rising star of the musical theater, a beautiful blonde with a great big Broadway voice. Only 31, she has already played Fantine in Les Misérables and Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard, and starred as carnival headliner Daisy Hilton in Side Show — all on Broadway. She has also played Ensign Nellie Forbush in Trevor Nunn’s Royal National Theatre production of South Pacific in London. Even so, she has found time to star in several NCT productions, including Evita (Evita) and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Narrator).
“I feel so proud that the North Carolina Theatre includes local actors in the cast, even a couple of high school and college kids,” says Lauren Kennedy. “They get exposed to great actors and directors from New York.”
She adds, “We certainly see North Carolina as a vibrant place for the arts and creativity, and we are excited about some of the creative things that are happening here.”
One of Broadway’s finest tenors, 48-year-old Alan Campbell is a veteran star of stage, screen, and television, with an impressive resume that includes five seasons on “Jake and the Fatman.” Campbell will make his North Carolina Theatre debut with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the spectacular (and still running!) 1994 Tony Award®-winning Broadway musical which features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by: Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton based on the Academy Award-winning 1991 animated motion picture.
Campbell made his Broadway debut with — and earned a 1995 Tony Award® nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for — his stellar performance as world-weary screenwriter-turned-gigolo Joe Gillis in the original New York production of Sunset Boulevard, directed by Trevor Dunn and starring Glenn Close as aging silver-screen siren Norma Desmond. He also starred in director/choreographer Susan Stroman’s 2000 Tony Award-winning musical Contact, both on Broadway and during the 2002 National Tour that Broadway Series South brought to Raleigh. (Campbell played the burned-out advertising executive, on the verge of a complete breakdown, in the swing-dance segment that closes the show.)
In the original Broadway cast of Sunset Boulevard, Alan Campbell played the male lead, while Lauren Kennedy was an understudy for his character’s girlfriend, Betty Schaefer. A real-life romance developed, and Kennedy and Campbell were married on Oct. 10, 1999.
Campbell says Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is “a brand.” He says, “It has a huge built-in audience because of its fame.… [But] there’s a lot that sails over the heads of kids,” such as references to making promises that you don’t intend to keep.
“It’s a love story and the music is fabulous,” claims Campbell. “It’s some of the best orchestrated stuff that I’ve ever heard.”
When asked how little Riley Rose reacts when she sees her father in his boo-scary Beast costume? Campbell says she’s okay, because she recognizes his voice.
Has she seen any of the rehearsals? “She loves the big dance numbers and the bright colors,” says Lauren Kennedy. Alan Campbell adds, “She loves hearing [Lauren] singing [in rehearsals]…. But she’s obviously too young and too interested in walking and pulling on curtains [to concentrate on the show].”
Matt Lenz, who has served as resident director for the Broadway production and National Tours of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, will direct Campbell and Kennedy in this ambitious NCT presentation, which features eye-catching (and very, very expensive) sets and costumes leased from the Music Theatre of Wichita. Lenz is currently associate director of the Broadway production of Hairspray, which he is scheduled to direct this fall in London’s West End.
Lenz saw the Music Theatre of Wichita production for which the NCT show’s sets and costumes were built. “I was really impressed that they had all of the elements,” says Lenz, “or things that represented all of the elements.”
Having spent more than five years working on the Broadway and touring productions Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Lenz is not easily impressed, but these sets and costumes impress him. He assures NCT audiences: “Everything that you expect to see, you’re going to see.”
Lenz adds, “The cast is certainly of the Broadway and touring company caliber. This is an amazing group of people.”
As for Alan Campbell and Lauren Kennedy, Lenz says, “They have built-in chemistry. They have a really powerful connection, a wonderful bond, and a great respect for each other. They’re able to look into each other’s eyes and tell the truth.”
There is a wonderful vulnerability about Beauty and the Beast, Lenz claims. The fact that Kennedy and Campbell are so simpatico made his job much, much easier. “The attraction is apparent,” Lenz explains, “and they both have great senses of humor.”
Lenz says the only member of the cast that he’s worked with previously is Tim Maculan, who plays Cogsworth. “We met at age 15 in high school in Rockford, Illinois,” Lenz recalls. “He is probably my [oldest] friend, but we have never worked together before in an actor-director capacity.”
Staging a regional-theater production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast that measures up to the Broadway and touring versions presents quite a challenge to director Matt Lenz and the NCT production team, which includes producer William Jones, choreographer Michele Lynch, assistant choreographer Casey Hushion, musical director/conductor McCrae Hardy, technical director William Pate, lighting designer Sean Roberson, costumer Annie Bruskiewitz, hair/wig/makeup designer Patti DelSordo, and sound designer Jonathan Parke.
“I wouldn’t be interested in doing [this show] if it wasn’t about human beings,” admits Matt Lenz. “It has a fairy-tale layer, but the stakes are very human. It’s an incredible human story.
“We’ll grab [the audience] by the heart, and they’ll find themselves relating to this guy in a Beast costume and the plight of this woman [Mrs. Potts (Jeanne Lehman)] who’s becoming a teapot.”
According to Lenz, the most challenging part of the show’s production process is “getting all of the pistons to fire [together] in a really short time. Doing it in a regional theater,” he notes, “we don’t have two weeks of technical process.
“But audience expectations are the same,” says Matt Lenz. “You have the same amount of scenery and the same amount of costumes, but you just don’t have the same amount of time.”
He says the cast spent 11 days rehearsing in NCT’s rehearsal studios in north Raleigh and three days treading the boards at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. The technical crew has been loading in since Monday.
This show is not a cartoon,” agrees director Matt Lenz. “It has all of the laughs, entertaining songs, and wonderful characters [of the great Broadway musicals].
“I hope the heart of the piece is beating really loudly [by opening night],” says Lenz. “That’s what matters to me. I hope that we can touch people unexpectedly.”
He adds, “It’s not worth it to me if I’m not touching people. I want to make people feel something. That’s why I’ve spent six years of my life with Beauty and the Beast.”
The North Carolina Theatre presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Friday, April 29, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 30, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 1, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday, May 2-6, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 7, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 8, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $20-$65. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950 or http://www.nctheatre.com/showstickets.asp [inactive 1/06]. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/index.asp [inactive 1/06]. Lauren Kennedy: http://www.laurenkennedy.com/ [inactive 12/05]. Broadway Show: http://disney.go.com/disneytheatrical/beautyandthebeast/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?id=4602. Official Movie Site: http://disneyvideos.disney.go.com/moviefinder/products/2496203.html [inactive 6/08]. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101414/.