Review: Beauty and the Beast by Magnolia Musical Theatre
by David Glen Robinson
Of course it's a fairy tale. Apparently it was first penned by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, in 1740. Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont wrote the 1756 abridged follow-on version (source: Wikipedia). Edits, abridgements, and add-ons have appeared ever since. The tale's origins in European mythology aren't clear, and the obsession with castles, kings, the nobility and the peasantry indicate that the core concepts of Beauty and the Beast cannot extend much further back than medieval times.
In fact, Beauty and the Beast is really a modern fantasy, and Disney knows that all too well. The 2017 live-action movie grossed more than a billion dollars, and the cash is still piling up. Likewise the animated feature and the theatrical production with music by Alan Menken, book by Linda Woolverton, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. CTX Live Theatre has records of sixteen productions since 2014, including a national tour that year and, upcoming this year, one in San Antonio and another in Killeen.
The latest version by Magnolia Musical Theatre under DIsney license stands proudly among them. The company's inaugural production has just ended its free-admission-for-all run at the open courtyard of the Hill Country Galleria in Bee Cave. With production by Andrew Cannata, the company will specialize exclusively in musical theatre. Footloose has been announced for 2024.
This Beauty and the Beast is the impressive marker that Magnolia Musical Theatre has arrived.
Lighting and sound design produced magic under a high, overarching truss sustaining any number ofspeakers and lighting instruments. The number of lighting sets was huge. The music and singing were crisp and clear to the back of the courtyard, which, on the night this reviewer attended, held as many as one thousand patrons. A team of artisans realized every design field. Those in lighting team was directed by Bill Rios, and the sound team was headed by designer Theo Roe.
Desiderio Roybal's scenic design gave the audience a high, intimidating castle with numerous entrances and performing levels. Stage front held many flats representing a peasant village revealed to have quick rolling on/off capability. Down stage, once cleared, hosted a fantastic succession of production numbers crafted by choreographer Taylor Rainbolt. This reviewer’s favorites were “Be Our Guest,” “Transformation,” and “Finale," the Beauty and the Beast reprise. Production numbers always bring together the design fields, for better or worse. In this production lighting, sound, scenery, dance, and song worked together seamlessly to give us a thrilling and memorable entertainment. Kudos to Magnolia Musical Theatre.
Musical theatre fairy tales place exceptional demands on costume design. Jennifer Rose Davis headed the costume team, assisted ably by Jana Steen. Their work was superb. When Belle entered in her yellow gown (with tiara), she drew applause. This reviewer’s tastes are more visceral, so he was immensely impressed with the wolves with their glowing eyes. Their costumes of furred evil, snugly fit dancers in their gymnastic, athletic attacks on their victims without inhibiting that movement (more credit to choreographer Rainbol for that action) . The wolves, recruited no doubt from the ensemble , appeared in two short fight scenes. The dancers weren't singled out by name; they deserved a bit more.
Everyone in the talented principal cast put in exceptional performances. Standouts: Mary Shae Hooper as Belle, Laura Huffman Powell as Mrs. Potts, Michelle Cheney as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Robert Quintanilla as Beast, and the chameleonic Sarah Reynolds as both Babette and the Enchantress. Sebastian Vitale burst powerfully on the sceneas the muscle-flexing machine Gaston, so cru-el! Frequent Austin performer and singer Matt Connely as Lefou continues to cut a wide (and very tall) talent swath through regional musical theatre.
The entertainment value, hope, and inspiration of fairy tales such as the modern Beauty and the Beast cannot be denied. What surly soul could possibly gainsay a story in which a crippling enchantment is lifted only by the simple words “I love you”?
July 19 - August 13, 2023
12700 Hill Country Blvd.
Bee Cave, TX, 78738
July 19 - August 13, 203
Wednesdays - Sundays at 8 p.m.
Hill Country Galleria
Located in the Central Plaza. Admission is free.