Jonathan Winsby as the Beast and Michelle Bardach as Belle in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Beauty and the Beast. Photo by David Cooper.
Jonathan Winsby as the Beast and Michelle Bardach as Belle in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Beauty and the Beast. Photo by David Cooper.

Beauty and the Beast is a heartwarming classic and childhood favourite for many. And thanks to the central performances from Michelle Bardach and Jonathan Winsby in the Arts Club’s production currently on stage at the Stanley Theatre, this somewhat bland Disney retelling finds its heart.

For those unfamiliar, Beauty and the Beast is the musical tale of a prince who turns away a haggard old woman in need, only to have her cast a spell on him, turning him into a hideous Beast and enchanting the castle, along with everyone inside. As the spell can only be broken when the Beast falls in love with someone who loves him back, it becomes the book-loving Belle who will ultimately give him the redemption he needs.

Directed by Bill Millerd, the Arts Club’s artistic director for 46 years before retiring from the position this year, this production of Beauty and the Beast has been staged by the Arts Club numerous times since 2005. Now into its sixth production, with many of the cast and creative team returning for this installment, there is an expectation of something grand. Unfortunately, the first act seemed off at times, with pockets of comedic moments missing. Happily, the second act picked up considerably.

Its hard not to keep your eyes off the talented Michelle Bardach, who plays Belle. Stealing the show with her sweet and powerful voice, her acting chops are also top notch. As the Beast, Jonathan Winsby effectively balances the Beast’s anger and awkward vulnerability. Together, this duo gives the show its heartbeat.

Other highlights include Kamyar Pazandeh as the cocky manly man Gaston with ease. He carries a rich and strong voice.  Shawn Macdonald is a riot as Cogsworth, cracking puns and carrying the physicality of a human turned clock. Another joy to watch is Jennifer Lynch, whose barmaid was incredibly funny in the “Gaston” scene.

Some of the characters fell a little flat though, including the three swooning Bimbettes. Seeing the role of Le Fou being played by Ali Watson was a nice surprise in its gender bend, but she was often too quiet when up against Pazandeh’s performance as Gaston.

Members of the cast in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Beauty and the Beast. Photo by David Cooper.
Members of the cast in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Beauty and the Beast. Photo by David Cooper.

For such a grand story, the expectations for the look of the production also looms large, but both Alison Green’s set and Barbara Clayden’s costumes were a bit of a letdown, although Belle’s costumes were a highlight, and it was always fun to see the next thing she would wear. On opening night there were also a couple of awkward moments with Joel Grinke’s projections which appeared to be misplaced, including the cracking of a mirror.

With its immediately recognizable music, the team of musicians do not disappoint, and the performers remind us of why so many hold these songs dear to their hearts. Valerie Easton has put together a lot of fun choreography, particularly in the “Gaston” bar scene and in “Be Our Guest”.

While this most recent Arts Club production of Beauty and the Beast may underwhelm in some ways, thanks to its beautiful music, simple story of love, and some powerful performances it continues to win audience’s hearts.

Beauty and the Beast, with music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Bill Millerd. An Arts Club Theatre Company production at Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre (2750 Granville Street, Vancouver) through January 6. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.