Little town and quiet village, Hollywood is not, but the showbiz city might as well have been transformed into something provincial as summer arrived courtesy of the Hollywood Bowl and its star-packed presentation of a Disney classic.
Beauty and the Beast, the 1991 animated adventure starring Belle, the Beast, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Gaston, and other assorted enchanted humans and/or objects, helped launch the Hollywood Bowl line-up this year with a concert production and spiritual follow-up to the wildly successful (and still very YouTube-able) presentation of The Little Mermaid in 2016.
The goal of these film concerts is not to replicate but to revive, adding new life to something already bursting with color and energy, and that fantasy was certainly achieved in earnest as the beloved movie played on the big screen, accompanied by a live performance of the score by a full orchestra, vibrant and admirably detail-oriented projections around the edges of the proscenium, and performances from an eclectic ensemble of stars who lent their voices to the characters in moments of song.
Zooey Deschanel headlined the cast as Belle, bringing a bookish and pleasant charm to the role as she wandered the stage in a blue dress, her unique voice placing her as much in her own interesting musical world as Belle was in her pastoral French village. Elsewhere in the town, Taye Diggs and Rebel Wilson exploded with pure charisma as Gaston and LeFou, respectively, with Broadway veteran Diggs offering a very welcome return to his fine musical theater form (why isn’t he in every musical?) and Wilson betraying total glee at playing the hoarse-voiced sidekick. Wilson played Ursula at the Bowl’s 2016 Mermaid and maintained her trend of appropriate character costuming, this time matching LeFou’s signature hair and outfit piece for piece (being the only cast member to do so). Diggs’ and Wilson’s playful banter and raucous “Gaston” and “The Mob Song” made the pair a veritable highlight of the evening.
Upon the arrival of Belle at the Beast’s castle, Kelsey Grammer and Jane Krakowski made their stage debuts towards the end of the first act, filling the cavernous Bowl with ease as they shimmered through a showy “Be Our Guest.” As the inimitable Lumiere, Grammer’s stage appeal was reminiscent of his Tony-nominated 2010 turn in La Cage aux Folles and built a strong case for him to play the candelabra role again should a revival be so happily in the works; Grammer turned the character into his own creation, a difficult but welcome task.
Krakowski, an inspired-adjacent choice to fill Angela Lansbury’s porcelain as Mrs. Potts, dialed down her natural stage comedy and gave fans two thoughtful, winsome performances in “Be Our Guest” and, later, the film’s title song. Joined by two members of the Bowl’s chorus as Cogsworth and Chip, she and Grammer also found the opportunity to have some campy fun in the miniature quartet moment during “Something There.”
Four memorable enchanted objects made way for a fifth as Hairspray icon Marissa Jaret Winokur surprised the audience as the endlessly underrated wardrobe, Madame de la Grande Bouche. In deep red and bearing an even deeper grin, Winokur brought true Broadway spirit to the stage as she and an ensemble of dancers turned the famously-cut song “Human Again” into a theatrical showstopper, clearly having a ball while doing so.
For all his starry colleagues, however, gospel singer Anthony Evans walked away with the entire concert as the Beast, a character who gets but one chance to sing in the film (in the wintry “Something There”) and was memorably elevated in both the Broadway adaptation and the recent 2017 live-action film. Evans belted out “Evermore,” a gorgeous ballad written for the 2017 release, which the singer performed with stunning technical and emotional panache, swiftly becoming the marquee name the crowd was buzzing about as the performance let out.
Throughout the show, the Hollywood Bowl ensured that the film presentation was padded by other musical surprises, including a fierce instrumental duet between violinist Sandy Cameron and cellist Tina Guo, as well as an opening act featuring the enthusiastic Disney-centric vocal group, DCappella. The Oscar- and Grammy-winning score was brought to indelible life by the “Beauty and the Bowl” orchestra and conductor Michael Kosarin — a 25-year collaborator of the film’s composer, Alan Menken, whose arrival at the end of the evening was perhaps the biggest surprise in a night of many.
While many Bowl productions end in summer-happy fireworks, Beauty and the Beast in Concert culminated in just Menken at a piano, sharing stories of his songwriting partners Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman, and singing his way through “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” another new song written for the 2017 remake. With just Menken and his music, it was perhaps the greatest reminder that, for all the razzle-dazzle showmanship of this film and the welcome efforts of the Hollywood Bowl production, the timeless allure of Beauty and the Beast can always be recaptured with just a few simple notes on a piano. The dazzle, though, certainly doesn’t hurt.