Peals of merry laughter resounded throughout the Muny during a grand and glorious “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” opening night Wednesday — from little ones all dressed up to the parents and grandparents who brought them.
Swathed in charm and gilded in Old World elegance, the beloved classic was spellbinding. The big and splashy stage version, adapted from the movie in 1994, has been performed at the Muny twice before, in 2005 and 2010, but this production is fresh and vibrant, emphasizing equally the romance and the comedy, under Matt Lenz’s buoyant direction.
With polish and pizzazz, an appealing cast brought its A game to a familiar French fairy tale that has enchanted for more than 360 years. The cast made it enchanting for first-timers and reminded us why this show, adapted from the lauded 1991 Best Picture Oscar-nominated animated movie, is so special.
Everything popped — the jewel-like tones in Robert Mark Morgan’s beautifully detailed set, the golden glow by lighting designer Nathan Scheurer, and the handsome costumes designed by Robin McGee, originally from Highland and a former Mater Dei High School choir director who is now a nationally renowned costume designer.
First and foremost, however, is the exquisite music. Composer Alan Menken has teamed up with other lyricists since the death of Howard Ashman in 1991, and there have been many outstanding Disney scores, but there isn’t a better one. Song after luxurious song are beautifully rendered — touching ballads like “Home,” “If I Can’t Love Her,” “A Change in Me,” and the heartfelt Oscar winner Best Song “Beauty and the Beast,” and the peppy and fun group numbers “Belle,” “Gaston” and the showstopper “Be Our Guest.”
We are fortunate that the principals, with sublime vocal abilities, put their hearts and souls into each song. Nicholas Rodriguez, quickly becoming a fan favorite, brings his physicality and good-guy persona to the role of The Beast, a prince cursed for his arrogance, while Kate Rockwell is both sweet and spunky as the strong, independent Belle.
They were impressive as Tarzan and Jane last season, and reunited this summer for their dream roles. It’s a win-win pairing for all, for their chemistry is palpable and they work so well together.
The supporting characters are one fun bunch. Rob McClure, as agile as an acrobat, sports a thick French accent as candlestick Lumiere and teams up with nimble Steve Rosen, as the fussy butler-turned-clock Cogsworth, and they are a delightful duo. With the impeccable comic timing of a Golden Age comedy team, these guys had the audience in the palm of their hands. No wonder — in the enjoyable “The Addams Family” last season, McClure was Gomez and Rosen was Uncle Fester.
Other standouts included the multi-talented Marva Hicks (“Motown the Musical” on Broadway) as the motherly cook-turned-teapot Mrs. Potts — her title song rendition is a verklempt moment; St. Louis native Deidre Goodwin as a playful Babette;, and Spencer Jones, who played Young Tarzan, as an adorable Chip.
Nathaniel Hackmann was a strong Gaston, the swaggering buffoon, while Michael Hartung was funny as his loyal sidekick Lefou. Veteran actor Lenny Wolpe was good as Belle’s eccentric, caring father Maurice.
The ensemble was noteworthy, too, executing Vince Pesce’s crisp and snappy choreography with aplomb. Matthew Davies did a terrific job as a swirling, somersaulting carpet. Michael Harp, of Swansea, is a beaming song-and-dance man among the large youth ensemble.
This has been a season worthy of all the superlatives used in my reviews, but the six shows so far have been a sumptuous banquet for the Muny faithful. The entertainment value in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is a given. With an injection of Muny magic, it is a warm and whimsical feast for our eyes, ears and hearts.
At a glance
What: “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast”
Where: The Muny in Forest Park
When: 8:15 nightly through Aug. 7
Tickets: www.muny.org; 314-361-1900