Saturday, November 10, 2012
Re-envisioned BEAUTY AND BEAST short of original concept’s charm
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a fairy tale about Belle, a young lady who lives in a provincial town, and her encounter with a spoiled young prince who was turned into a beast by an enchantress because he had no love in his heart. He, and the members of his household, would remain forever in his ugly state unless he learned to love and someone loved him back. As in all good “once upon a time” stories, it ends with a “they lived happily ever after.”
The musical, which is in a revival national tour now lodged in the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square, is based on the 1991 Disney animated musical, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The Broadway show opened in 1994 and ran through 2007, 5,464 performances, making it one of the top ten longest running productions in the great white way history.
The show has tuneful Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) which include such memorable tunes as Belle, If I Can Love Her, Something There, Human Again, A Change in Me, and the title song, Beauty and the Beast.
As with the movie, the original Broadway production was charming. It contained fairy tale sets, costumes and performances. It was a production which evoked smiles from the very start and some clever humorous scenes, mixed with some moments of slight terror. All in all it was the perfect family musical.
This touring edition, under the direction of Rob Roth, goes in a different direction. The less elaborate sets are more comic book than fantasy. The costumes don’t encourage smiles and often look tacky, almost old time Las Vegas. The musical arrangements aren’t as lush, often sounding hard, not enchanting. There also appears to be an attempt to make this a message musical, the message being that we all have fears, we all have a beast within us.
Universally, the young and mostly Broadway-light inexperienced cast has excellent singing voices. The choreography, though not as resourceful as the original production, works adequately well, especially in such production numbers as Gaston and Be Our Guest.
Hilary Maiberger, though she doesn’t have the classic Disney heroine looks or charm, makes for a fine Belle.
Darick Pead also doesn’t have the traditional look of a Disney prince, but his Beast interpretation has some wonderful moments, such as when he howls like a child when Belle attempts to salve his wounds which he received protecting her from the forest wolves when she left the palace in search of her father.
Jeff Brooks didn’t have the body nor the attitude or natural swagger for the bigger than life Gaston. The tour started with 21 year-old Matt Farcher in the role. Unfortunately, on September 28, while in Houston, he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with atypical HUS, an ultra rare life-threatening blood disease. The cost of treatment is extremely expensive and the cast is asking for donations to help cover the costs. Those interested in contributing can do so at http://www.indiegogo.com/makingadifferenceformatt
Jimmy Larkin overdoes the prat falls and farce as Lefou, but, as in much of the production, farce is stressed over fantasy realism. This weakens the wonder factor.
Erin Edelle is wonderful as Mrs. Potts, as is Hassan Nazari-Robati as Lumiere, James May as Cogsworth, Jessica Lorion as Babette, William Martin as Maurice, Shani Hadjian as Madame de la Grande Bouche and Charlie Jones as Chip.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The touring production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST doesn’t have the charm of the original staging. It’s more Saturday morning television cartoons and over-done farce than enchantment, but, as evidenced by the response of the opening night audience, audiences will generally like it.
Tickets for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, which runs through November 18 at the Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.