Recommended *** In one of its most famous songs , Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” lays claim to “being a tale as old as time.” In fact, it is French fairy-tale dating back to the mid18th century. Disney’s animated adaptation of Linda Woolverton’s novel is quite different from the original story, but has been enormously successful, capturing the imagination of children by combining the fantastic with the banal and burlesque in age appropriate ways. While the Broadway version is remarkably faithful to the film both in costume (Ann Hould-Ward), script, and even the actors’ appearances, something seems to have gone wrong under Rob Roth’s direction in this touring Broadway production. Firstly, scenes are executed too quickly; secondly, the stage show goes overly-heavy on the burlesque at the expense of fairytale and charm, and thirdly, it was often hard to tell what the actors were saying, and even singing, if one did not already know the songs (Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Alan Menken).
The first scene in which an enchantress places a curse on a prince (Jordan Weagraff) when he refuses to show her hospitality, and transforms him into a beast (Ryan Everett Wood) is the frame for the entire story. Yet in this production it was not affecting and happened so quickly that the audience did not have time to process what was happening or to get any sense of how incredibly the high stakes were that over the course of the play that a woman should learn to love the prince as a beast: both for his own redemption, and for the servants who owe him allegiance and are slowly finding themselves transformed into inanimate objects.
When Belle’s father, the eccentric inventor Maurice (Thomas Mothershed), stumbles upon the Beast’s castle, Belle tracks him down, and agrees to serve in his stead, albeit under a more comfortable form of house arrest than the dungeon in which Maurice had found himself. In fact we hear the famous song “Be Our Guest” from the “downstairs” household who hope she will be the one to break the spell. Usually, the charm of the story is provided by the servants who are turning into mere utensils, not humans who owe their prince some sort allegiance and who can expect to be treated with humanity by him in return. In particular, the interaction between Lumiere (Patrick Pevehouse), and Cogsworth (Samuel Shurtleff), and warm wisdom of Mrs. Potts (Emily Jewell) are what make this story reliably fantastic, heart-warming, and humorous. But the performances by Mr. Pevehouse as Lumiere who is quickly becoming a candlestick and Mr. Shurtleff who every day finds some new clock-like apparatus attached to his frame are very uncreative, almost insipid. Also, Kelly Teal Goyette’s performance was so over-the-top and stilted as Madame de la Grande Bouche from a time and place where expectations for and styles of acting were dramatically different. Nor did the sub-plot about the shallow Gaston (Cameron Bond) and his side-kick Lefou (Tony D’Alelio) pursuing Belle through what really are very unsavory means do much to redeem the show. Their allocution, projection, and energy also seemed like much of the show’s ensemble below par.
Fortunately, the show was saved, partially by the elaborate set designs (Stanley A. Meyer) and lighting (Natasha Katz) that are possible only in a Broadway show, and gave both the sense of a lost European world, forest, and enchantment although little effort was made to represent the castle, but most of all by Ryan Everett Wood as the Beast who brought a tender, penitential suffering to the role. His punishment had not made him as wicked as one might expect and he is clearing struggling for his own redemption through terrible suffering during the course of the show. This was helped by his strong, clear, melodious voice, and lines and lyrics that were delivered clearly. Jillian Butterfield may have lacked the intense warmth that one sometimes sees in Belle, but she too had a strong enough voice and a tender presence that kept our interest and attention, and along with a beast so invested in his own redemption, made the story’s happy end plausible.
“Beauty and the Beast” is playing through Sunday March 22, 2015 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts located at 929 North Water Street in Milwaukee. Performances are at 7:30 or Thursday, 8:00 pm on Friday, 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm on Saturday and 1:00 pm and 6:30 pm on Sunday. They range in price from $30-$103 and can be purchased at the Box Office at 292 North Water Street, by calling 414-2734-7206, or online at www.MarcusCenter.org or www.Ticketmaster.com
Milwaukee is an easy ride from the North Shore and parking and dining around the theater district is wonderful and less costly than heading downtown.
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