Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Beauty and the Beast
Also see Dean's review of Chicago, Wally's review of Sonder: Transformations and Rob's review of God of Carnage
Cheri writes and directs all of elite Dance & Theatre's shows, and I think this is the best of her re-imaginings of classic tales. She's done Cinderella, A Christmas Carol, The Scarlet Letter, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as a few original shows. I've seen Beauty and the Beast twice now, about four years apart, and am most impressed with her adaptation.
Cheri wanted to see if the story could play out without using magic as the cause of the Beast's appearance, and she came up with a brilliant solution. There is no witch, only a bitch who sets the plot in motion. The wicked Zypherine is "taking care" of the widowed king by dosing him with potions that are slowly poisoning him. She wants to seize power in the kingdom and convinces the drugged king to proclaim that she will be regent after he dies (which happens very quickly). He screws up her plan by adding a caveat: she only can rule until the prince marries, at which time he will assume the throne.
Zypherine arranges for the prince to drink a potion that knocks him out cold. When he wakes up, she tells him that the poison disfigured his face so horribly that no woman would ever marry him. From then on, he has to wear a mask when in public. Having removed all the mirrors in the castle and condemning anyone who sees the prince's unmasked face with immediate execution, she fools him and everyone else into believing that he has indeed been transformed into a beast.
Along comes Belle, who lost her sight in a carriage accident in childhood. She is the only one who cannot see the prince's face, so he can take his mask off when he is with her. You think you know where the story will go from there, but there are several surprises. There's a delicious comeuppance for Zypherine in the closing moments, and a very satisfying ending for everyone else.
elite Dance & Theatre is essentially a dance company that does theater, too, so the shows always have dancing in them. In some of their other shows, the dancing has sometimes seemed superfluous, and here the dance numbers are not too obtrusive. They are well choreographed in a variety of styles, from traditional waltz to modern interpretive dance. The dances delay the advancement of the plot at times, and there are often a few too many seconds of dead air between scenes, even though there is not much of a set, just some props to be moved on and off stage. When I see an elite show, I have to slow my internal clock down a little, but I need that once in a while.
As always with elite, the terrific costumes more than compensate for the spareness of set design. Credit for costumes goes to Linda Downum, Judy Brewster, Erin Morrison, and of course, Cheri Costales. The lighting by Ben Costales and sound design by Matt Ramsey are fine. All of the music used was unfamiliar to me, but it's just right for the dances in this show.
The prince is played by Isaac Christie, one of my favorite Albuquerque actors. It's not the kind of role I expected to see him do, but he's as excellent as always. He has the most expressive eyes, and fortunately the mask he wears through much of the play leaves both eyes exposed. Aly Costales acts and dances the role of Belle, and she's even better than I remember her from the previous production. Cara Sowers gets a chance to ham it up as the villain Zypherine, and thankfully she doesn't overdo it. All the others in the large cast play their parts very well. Along with Cheri, Steve Corona and Cara Sowers contributed to the direction of the actors.
There's only one little thing I feel could be changed. The tea set that is brought on stage several times for the prince's afternoon tea is a very shiny silver serviceso shiny that the prince would easily be able to see his reflection in it and realize that he is not deformed at all. Otherwise, it's just about a flawless show.
Beauty and the Beast, through April 13, 2019, at elite Dance & Theatre, North 4th Arts Center, 4904 4th Street NW (just north of Griegos), Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:00 and 2:00 on Saturday. Most shows include a dessert reception at intermission. Tickets are $20 - $22. For tickets and information, visit elitedancetheatre.net.