The Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League (PHAMALy) presented Disney’s Beauty and the Beast last weekend in the Space theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. This well-known magical story has every element of a successful Disney tale — a spell, true love, a princess, a small menagerie of singing and dancing sidekicks, and a happy ending.
HE SAID: What a fun time! I’ve seen this show on Broadway where the magic could really blow you out of your seat, but this was my first time seeing it in such an intimate space. Some of the vastness of the castle is lost in such a small stage, but they compensated for that quite nicely with lighting and staging. What is gained is a nice sense of intimacy with the characters themselves. They are essentially fighting for their lives, and that passion is highlighted in this smaller space by a wonderfully talented cast.
SHE SAID: Although I’ve never seen it on a big proscenium stage, I thought that the scenic, costume and lighting designers (Tina Anderson, Linda Morken and Stephen D. Mazzeno respectively) did an exceptional job, and it felt as though it was written for a small space. It was also directed (by Steve Wilson) and choreographed (by Debbie Stark and Cindy Bray) with incredible thought and skill. As an audience member in the round, I never missed out on any of the action, but never sensed the effort in staging that is sometimes palpable when the director painfully makes sure that every section of the audience receives equal attention. I did notice that some of the group singing was not always uniform when it came to the entrances and cut-offs, but the group vocal sound was quite enjoyable.
HE SAID: Every single person in this show performs with such exuberance, that the big numbers are truly stunning. I’ve honestly never had more fun watching the number “Be Our Guest”. Have I seen it with more special effects, sparkle, and pizzazz? Yes. But what this production lacked in spectacle, they made up for with a pleasant choral voices, creative choreography, and a marvelous leader for the number in Lumiere played by Daniel Traylor. He was fantastic, bringing nuance to an otherwise over-the-top character. He found the soul in a candlestick, so that we never forgot that he is human.
SHE SAID: Agreed! Lumiere’s delightful performance was really the highlight of the show for me. The other enchanted servants were excellent across the board, truthful and specific, whereas the townspeople at times stopped short and made more general character choices. Jenna Bainbridge as Belle looked just right for the role, and I was constantly impressed with her acting talent, perfectly balancing the innocent and girly with the spunky and determined sides of this princess. The score really showcased the middle part of her vocal range, which was clear as a…well, you know. Leonard Barret Jr., as the Beast, had a hauntingly beautiful voice that literally gave me chills during the Act I finale.
HE SAID: And let’s not forget to mention how beautiful they both looked in their costumes. Belle’s yellow dress was stunning and the Beast make-up was intricate and life-like, even from up close. In fact, as much as I talk about this not being a spectacle, there were several special effects. Lumiere’s candles lit up. Clocksworth’s clock ticked. There was dry ice and even a real working fountain. My favorite effects were born from the creative considerations of the actors’ needs. Mrs. Potts and Chip are talking teaware that are brought to life by building structures around the actresses’ motorized wheelchairs. It really ended up being magical as the character’s almost floated around. Chip’s structure could have been a little longer, as I did see her feet, but the idea was very very creative.
SHE SAID: The performers’ handicaps really became strengths in this production. I once heard that some of the most successful inclusive theatre involves simultaneously acknowledging and ignoring the performers’ disabilities, and PHAMALy has clearly got this practice down perfectly. Another strength of this company is their ability to choose pieces with strong thematic consistency to the mission of the company. I thought that they did a touching job at conveying the message that feeling out-of-place is universal. I also think the story was bettered by the idea that even when the enchanted housewares were transformed back into humans again, they were overjoyed to be perfectly themselves, though not society’s non-disabled assumption of perfection. What a well-grounded happy ending!
THEY SAY: What PHAMALy has done is quite remarkable. Through their resources, creativity, and talent they have brought a magical classic to life in a refreshing yet familiar way. Even though the cast’s handicaps are on display, and often times used to heighten moments in the show, the performances are so strong that the audience focuses on the songs, the characters, and the story. And that is precisely the point – we are all different and we all have something to share. We both see and don’t see the handicap, and that is the real magic during PHAMALy’s Beauty and the Beast.
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