Beauty and the Beast is one of those shows that is difficult to review as I feel it may be nearly critic proof. I state that as I feel most patrons will have already made up their minds when they attend as to what they are in for. To be sure it is approximately a straight forward adaptation of the Disney animated classic with several new numbers sprinkled in. That said animated classic also happens to be the first animated feature to ever be nominated for an Academy Award best picture. Yes, it was that good. So does the stage production hold up?
The familiar story for those that don’t recall or haven’t seen the 1991 film in some time goes as so. Belle (Liz Shivener) and her inventor father Maurice (Christopher Spencer) are relatively new to town. The towns folk view them as a bit odd being that Belle perpetually has her face buried in a book and her father comes off as a kooky inventor that is laughed at by the town folk. The town’s top hunter, bachelor, you name it is the cocky, confident, and arrogant Gaston (Nathaniel Hackmann). He is set to ask Belle to be his wife. He can’t think of any reason she would say no, no other women in town seemingly would. After one of Belle’s father’s inventions leaves him lost in the woods he comes upon the Beast’s castle. Belle’s father is captured by the Beast (Justin Glaser) after he goes wandering the halls of his castle and runs into former servants turned household items Lumiere (Merritt David Janes), Cogsworth (Keith Kirkwood), and Mrs. Potts (Sabina Petra). The servants had been turned to various items by the very curse that turned the once young prince to his beastly appearance. Belle goes searching for her father and finds him, though she faces an ultimatum. For his release she must stay with the Beast forever.
What follows, if it isn’t obvious, is the tale of the Beast trying to get Belle to fall for him as he begins to fall for her. Doing so will reverse the Beast curse. Of course Gaston comes back into the story and threatens to muck things up, though all plays out well for the heroes. One thing I find worth noting about Beauty and the Beast I hadn’t pondered much before now. While Gaston is obviously the villain outside of just being an annoying douche, he may easily be one of the all time weakest villains in the pantheon of Disney villains. He never really is all that scary, just a cocky cheap-shot opportunist.
As for the production at the Starlight Theatre I found the direct copies of musical numbers and moments from the animated film worked best. The additional things added to the musical by contrast felt a bit weak by comparison. I was also disappointed by a Beast that seemed to be played for laughs and had a weak and ridiculous sounding prerecorded roar. For a story that I would expect is supposed to feature a brooding, regretful, and tormented soul in the beast as a result of his actions, in this production he came off as overly hammy, eliciting many laughs. Thus I couldn’t ever quite get behind him being tormented for his choice to refuse the old woman who turned him to his beastly form. This resulted in it being difficult for me to ever really get into the Beast character and as a result most of the show. I’m not sure where the fault falls for the character seemingly being lead so far from it’s roots. Be it the actor, the director or maybe a bit of both. I just felt the character didn’t get it’s proper due in this outing.
That isn’t to say the show is left without it’s highlights. Gaston, while potentially being one of the all time most nonthreatening villains, is a bit of hoot due to his over confidence. He borders on being almost too cartoony at times but manages to keep things from getting too ridiculous. As a result, Gaston’s numbers ended up being what popped for me better than most others being lively and fun. Though the classic “Be our Guest” gives “Gaston” a good run for it’s money. Both numbers feature full chorus lines populating the stage as either the townsfolk in the case of “Gaston” and as various dining utensils and house hold objects during “Guest”.
The sets also look like something pulled directly from a Disney park, which is a good thing due to their typical level of detail. Though I do have one gripe as sitting far stage right I missed several things that took place on that side of the stage as there was a frame around the stage that obscured my view several times.
Generally Beauty in the Beast is a good production though not quite living up to the gold standard of it’s source material. Due to a few weak components it misses it’s target a bit. That said I feel it is still very solid entertainment for the family as kids were eating the show up.
I give Beauty and the Beast 3.5 “Creepy robotic Chip heads” out of 5
By John Coovert