SHELVE YOUR CYNICISM! The People’s Theatre in Johannesburg presents a no-holds-barred Beauty and the Beast JR, which takes all the schlock and cliché necessary and mushes it together to form a fairy tale of the very finest stripe. Without any irrelevant pantomimish asides, without any lewd jokes for the grown-ups, or contemporary songs sidled into the work, this is a pink-icing-with-cherries-on-top kind of children’s entertainment, which will make even the most macho-feeling little boys in the audience silent and in awe of the magic of a happily ever after.
The age-old story that draws from traditional folk tales and was first penned in 18th century France has been told thousands of times in different ways, including a full-length Walt Disney cartoon production, and it is on this that Jill Girard and Keith Smith’s current work rests. Yes, it’s watered down considerably from the original, but it brings all the fun and drama, all the mythical issues and scary possibilities into the fray, including an understanding of how the shape-shifting magic makes not only the prince into a monster, but all his servants into things, such as cupboards (Ayanda Sibisi) and teapots (Alida Senekal), chandeliers (Marvin Molepo) and clocks (Luciano Zuppa), as well. It’s a yarn in which the baddie gets his come-uppance and the hero wins beauty and the girl, all in one “I love you”.
Appropriate for children who have not been exposed to the tale, as well as die hard Beauty-and-the-Beast fans, this production, with the exception of sound that is often bigger than the venue, with very large mics stuck onto the faces of most of the cast, is a delight.
Be warned, however, there is a harsh dollop of strobes just as the story’s climax is ripe, and the set occasionally feels over-designed: constructed in layers, which give voice to audio-visual, traditionally drawn and constructed elements to the environment, it is an element to the show that you sometimes find yourself wishing was a tad simpler.
Costume-wise, the work adheres to the Disney mandate which reaches back to 18th century Europe and finds men in pony-tailed wigs and stockings, and ladies in big frocks, which adds to the sense of magic in the piece. But it is the cast that sweeps the work away with their obvious delight in performing it. Zuppa who is clearly one of this theatre’s most important repertory players, lends the work a humble gravitas with his interpretation of Belle’s dad, amongst other roles. Belle, played by Masego Mothibakgomo is a true delight: she’s easy on the eye and the ear, and is as ideal a princess as your child needs as a role model. She’s refined, she’s loyal, she’s beautiful and has a mind of her own. Above all, she reads books and she loves with a full heart. But it is young Chidera Nwoha in his role of Lafou, assistant to Gaston, who steals much of the limelight with his confidence and completely delicious stage presence.
The song and dance of the work, touches all the classical Broadway musical ensemble steps that are satisfying to watch, blending adult and child performers in a way that celebrates them all, even Gaston (Travis Hornsby), the contrary character who represents all that is not desirable in young men. A tale of values, with a clear trajectory and unabashed fun, this should be a must-experience on your littlies’ holiday calendar.
- Disney’s Beauty and the Beast JR is based on the original 1740 tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve and the book by Linda Woolverton and directed by Jill Girard and Keith Smith. It features design by Sandy Dyer (musical staging), Rowan Bakker (musical direction), Grant Knottenbelt (lighting, set and audio-visual) Sean McGrath, Trudie Stroh and Merry Whillier (costumes), and Liam McGregor (sound), is performed by Travis Hornsby, Marvin Molepo, Masego Mothibakgomo, Alida Senekal, Jonathan Blaine Shore, Ayanda Sibisi and Luciano Zuppa and a cast of child performers: Jemma Cohen, Rachel Davies, Gabrielle Flaum, Palesa Khutsoane, Sofia Lopes, Lucia Molitano, Leora Myers, Asande Mzizi, Yashvi Nagin, Henrique Neves, Chidera Nwoha, Caitlyn Scholtz, Raymond Skinner, Simonne van der Vyver and Kieran Wagner, until December 24 at the People’s Theatre, Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein, call 011-403-2340.