Thursday, February 07, 2002

Beauty and the Beast (Playhouse Square Center)

'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST' delights at Allen Theatre

There are some critics who damn the Disneyfication of the American musical. They believe that the Disney organization has made the theatre into a place of formula plots and overblown productions. I am not one of them! I think the arts, theatre included, has to appeal to many different types of people on different levels for it to fulfill it’s mission.

It was exciting on opening night of 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST' to see a near capacity audience made up of young children, teenagers, Generation Xers and the Geritol set. They came in spite of the fact that this is not the first time the show has been in Cleveland. They came, they were excited about being in the theatre, and they enjoyed themselves. Many of these people would not come to see the likes of 'PARADE,' 'BLOOD BROTHERS' or 'CHESS,' but they came to see the fantasy, the magic, the farce, the inventive sets, and the wonderful costumes of this show. This mass assemblage wanted to enjoy themselves, to have some cotton candy for the mind and cherry cokes for the soul. Hurray for Disney for finding a way to draw these people into see live theatre.

Did the Disney studios actually reinvent the musical? No! The 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST' plot line follows the tried and true formula set up by Rogers and Hammerstein in the 1940s. The first act lays the foundation for the plot, the last incident of the act makes us want to come back to find out how the story ends. It’s the same as what we experience in Lerner and Loewe’s 'MY FAIR LADY.' The question at the end of the first act is, “Will Eliza be able to fool everyone and be perceived as a lady of breeding?” The question in 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST' is, “Will Beauty be able to teach the Beast how to love and thus break the wicked spell?” In both cases the answer, of course, is “yes.” That’s the stuff of which fantasies are made.

The production on stage at the Allen Theatre is everything one could ask for. It’s been that way since 1993 when the musical previewed in Houston and 1994 when it opened to its long run on Broadway. It’s been that way as it has worked its way across the world and thrilled people in such places as Sydney, Toronto, Vienna, Osaka, Mexico City and London.

This is a full-scale beautifully mounted production which will enchant children of all ages. But, be warned, it may also scare the little ones as the Beast roars, the shadows and fog fill the stage, and wolves chase Beauty. (As one sweet 3-year old, all dressed up in her pink ruffles said, “I don’t like this movie, it scares me.” Her parents snuggled her in, reassured her, and she remained transfixed for the rest of the show.

The cast is wonderful. Danyelle Bossardet is a Snow White-like Beauty with a warm and charming voice. Grant Norman’s voice fills the theatre as it did when he played the lead in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and in London. Marc Dalio creates a Gaston who is perfectly overblown. Gerard McIsaac is a perfect slapstick fool and punching bag for Gaston.

Capsule judgement: Over 17 million people worldwide have seen and loved 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.' I challenge anyone except the reviewer-Grinch to not love this production. 'LONG LIVE' the Disneyfication of the musical! Ba, humbug to the sourpusses who look down at making people laugh, smile and want to come to the theatre!