Be Our Guest...in Pittsburgh!

Over the course of last week, the national tour of Beauty and the Beast made its way to Pittsburgh via Heinz Hall. And since I'll assume that everyone has seen either the movie, in the past 21 years that it's been out, the musical or the modern day adaption of the story (aka: Beastly) then I'll skip past the part of how the plot goes and go right to what was onstage.

"Be our guest, be our guest, put our service to the test!"
I was accompanied to the show with friend and fellow blogger, Isaac and both of us went into seeing this show in a pretty biased light. He did it more recently in a community theater experience and I did it back in my sophomore year of high school which was "the first high school in Pennsylvania" to do it, not that I can find any information about that online since I guess 2004 was too early to post everything on the Internet. But I think I was a little more biased than he was.

Lets start with some basics that I didn't really like - which, when you think about the overall production, were not really a big deal. First, the costumes were a pet peeve of mine, simply because I thought they were too humanized. And although I'm not a fan of making any one's job harder than it already is, some of these characters are larger than life and should have been portrayed that way. I remember when I was in this show, some of my fellow cast-mates struggled getting on and off stage, especially Cogsworth, Madame de la Grande Bouche and Mrs. Potts, so it was a little disappointing to see them not really looking like the object they portrayed. And I'm sure that if kids found a way to do to in Lincoln High School, they certainly could do it with the size of the wings I'm sure Heinz Hall has. Also, the scenery, because it is a touring show and nothing can really remain on a specific stage, nothing was stationary and it was all a lot less grand then expected. However, despite these two things, the costumes and scenery served their purposes as they were meant to and I only questioned for a split second what Madame de la Grande Bouche was since her drawers were not obvious, besides that, everything worked well for its intended use.

However, two things that were kind of upsetting that were less easy to get over were the lack of the battle scene and the Beast's change back into a human. The battle scene, which is between the Mob Song, where Gaston rallies the villagers to find the Beast and the fight between the Beast and Gaston was cut out of this production. While I'm not sure why it was cut, I can imagine that it was a timing issue or just a blocking fiasco. As I said I was in this show before so I understand that it's not always an ideal scene to work with, since it has to look like mass chaos, but at the same time must be very well choreographed so no one gets hurt. I just would have liked to see another group's battle scene considering it was one of my favorite scenes to actually perform. Also, the changing of the Beast, started fabulous with him being lifted and spun (just like the movie!) but ended with a bright strobe light that left me blinded for a minute, which left me feeling kinda cheated. Like was blinding the audience they only way you could change him from Beast to human? I'm still not sure of all of the specific details of how our Beast changed into a human. I know it involved a swig actor, a fog machine and a baby strobe light, but even from watching that scene from the wings, it looked fantastic and I give major props to our directors because I know we did it without blinding the audience to switch actors.

Now, since I do not want to be labeled that girl who bashed Beauty and the Beast and it was not in my agenda to simply hate the production, lets seriously talk about what I did love. I adored this cast. They each were so well versed in the personalities of their characters and nothing seemed forced, which sometimes is hard for a cast to avoid when doing a Disney show, since the characters just seem too nice sometimes. This cast was fluid and made everything else that looked like a flaw to me disappear. Emily Behny was gorgeous in this role as Belle. At first I was unsure whether or not I would like her because her voice is very musical theater, which isn't my style, but she won me over time and time again. During "A Change In Me" she really let her voice belt and absolutely killed it, she was fabulous. Also, always fan favorites, Cogsworth (James May), Lumiere (Michael Haller), Madame de la Grande Bouche (Jen Bechter) and Mrs. Potts (Julia Louise Hosack) all made fabulous objects come to life on stage. These characters are easily pointed to as some people's favorites since they have the great little punch-lines and over-the-top character personalities. These actors and actresses were a phenomenal supporting cast.

"...now that I'm grown I eat five dozen eggs, so I'm roughly the size of a barge."
However, the greatest one in my eyes was that dreamy hunk, Gaston, played by Logan Denninghoff. He was absolutely fabulous and reminded me of a young John Travolta, which is the best compliment I can give to an actor. I love John Travolta...SO. MUCH. Anyway, I loved Gaston and his little, always hilarious sidekick, LeFou (Jimmy Larkin). This combo was unbelievable and every time they came on stage, I knew the scene would be great. One of my favorite scenes to perform was a dance section to Gaston's song in the tavern and I was so thrilled to see that this cast also performed it. The "mug dance" as many have named it, is a showstopper and the really only other big dance scene besides "Be Our Guest" and was just as entertaining. Considering I still have the counts of when the mugs are supposed to click together stuck in my head since 2004, it was great to see the exact timing on stage at Heinz Hall.

"Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme..."
Now, on to the two greatest parts of the show. First being, THE DRESS. You know, the big, beautiful, yellow ballgown that Belle wears to dance with the Beast in, in the formal dinner scene. Basically the most iconic article of clothing I think a character has ever worn. When Emily Behny first appeared in the dress, I, like probably every other girl in the theater, was astonished. It glowed. She glowed in it. Perfect moment. I felt like it was a Say Yes to the Dress moment and thank God, Belle said yes. It was perfect. And I'm sure you can guess the one last thing that made this show top my charts, considering he's the only one I haven't mentioned yet, the Beast (Dane Agostinis) was flawless. I loved the little socially-awkward quirks that he brought out of his character that would be true to someone who was locked up as a hideous beast in a castle for his whole life. I don't think many actors think to bring out those attributes as much as he did and he was able to, in an instant, switch from awkward boy to ferocious beast perfectly. And of course, like a true girl that I am, he made me cry while singing "If I Can't Have Her." Sigh.

So, as you see overall, it was a great production. What really brought it to life though, was this cast. They were fabulous and regardless of what I thought of the stage they were performing on or the costumes they were in, overall they made it and enchanted evening for everyone there. And obviously I thought it was a great show since I bought a Belle t-shirt for myself on the way out! While the show is no longer in Pittsburgh, if you can catch it in another city, this cast is worth the travel. Or wait until the show comes back into the city...but that might be quite awhile from now.

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