Thursday, June 23, 2011

theatre review BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, National Tour, NJPAC, June 22

Emily Behny and Dane Agostinis
Beauty and the Beast ran for over 13 years on Broadway, so to say it was a blockbuster show is pretty much an understatement.  Based on the beloved Disney animated film, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, the Broadway production used the film's original composer Alan Menken and author, Linda Woolverston to expand the film for the Broadway stage.   Helping them was lyricist Tim Rice, director Robert Jess Roth, costume designer Ann Hould-Ward and set designer Stan Meyer.  Together they were able to fully create the imaginary world of the film on stage, including the colorful and creative costumes as well as supplement it with some beautiful new songs.

We saw the Broadway production a few times, and I was always struck at how they fully delivered on the message in the film, that beauty is really found from within.   The production was magical as well, with beautiful sets, including a huge and elaborate one to portray the Beast's castle and (Spoiler alert) a spellbinding transformation at the end of the show when the Beast becomes the Prince after he finds true love.  The direction of the cast on Broadway was always never heavy handed and never on the verge of being cartoonish, except for the characters of Gaston and Lefou who are written that way.  I think I cried every time I saw the show.

Where did the "cheese grater" go?
So, with much dread I am here to report that the current National Touring company of this show isn't very good.  Though it still lists Roth and Meyer as the director and set designer, the production is directed and designed completely different than the Broadway production.   The direction of many of the characters makes them out to be complete cartoons with many of the actors mugging and chewing as much scenery as they can get their hands on.  Which, in the case of this production, isn't that much, as while there are some lovely and colorful scrims and backdrops, there is basically only the minimalist of set pieces.  The ones that represent the Beast's castle are small interlocking ones that made me not once believe that I was in an elaborate castle.  There wasn't even a detailed backdrop to portray one.  Only the Beast's chair and the fireplace were anything imaginative.   I know that these tours move all over the country, so sets need to be small enough to be put in a truck and moved and reset all in a day, but some nice colorful drops don't replace what on Broadway was a truly magical production.   While the "Be Our Guest" number was fairly in line with what was staged on Broadway, hardly any of the imaginative and comical "enchanted object" costumes seen on Broadway in that number appear on the tour.  What happened to the Cheese Grater Man?  We only get napkins, utensils, plates and salt and pepper shakers!

Now, I won't mention the specific actors who are playing their parts so over the top that they literally are in a different show, but I will say that Belle and the Beast aren't two of them.   I know that Roth directed this, and I'm not sure how long this tour has been running, so it's possible he hasn't seen it in a while and the actors are now doing whatever they want to do, so I hope if that's the case he sees this soon and gets them back in line.

Still, many of the people around us enjoyed the show, but considering many of the audience members could have seen this show just 15 miles away on Broadway a few years back, it is a shame that they are getting such a lack luster production.   At least the transformation for this tour uses the same magic effect used on Broadway, so that almost saved the show for me.   If someone can get a few of the actors to play the parts the way they were written, and they add a backdrop for the castle interior, then I'd recommend this production, but as it is now, I'd say skip it if it comes to your town.

Official Show Site

Highlights from this production

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