BWW Reviews: New BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Tour Can't Compare to Original
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a "tale as old as time" and while the story and music are wonderful and as good as the audience may remember, the new NETworks touring production – currently playing at PlayhouseSquare – is a far cry from the magic of the original Broadway and touring productions.
The classic story is, at the most basic level, about seeing the person within and not judging someone by their outward appearance. The young prince learned this lesson the hard way. When he refused refuge to a less-than-beautiful beggar woman, she revealed herself to be a beautiful enchantress. No amount of apologizing, however, could right the wrong and she punished the prince by transforming him into the Beast. Now he would have to learn what it was like to be judged by his appearance. The Beast stays hidden in his castle with only his servants for company, all of whom have been turned into various household objects.
Enter Belle, a beautiful young woman seen as an outcast by those in her village because she enjoys reading more than anything. This is a concept most people find odd, including Gaston, who doggedly pursues Belle simply because she's the "best." Belle finds her way to the castle in search of her father and ends up staying as the Beast's "prisoner" so that her father can return home instead. During her time at the castle she befriends Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts and the rest of the staff and, eventually, breaks through the tough exterior of the Beast.
It's rare a creative team gets to take a second look at a production to re-work it, but the original minds behind BEAUTY AND THE BEAST did just that. Unfortunately, this second look resulted in a watered down version of the show. The most notable changes are in the set and costumes.
Ann Hould-Ward won a 1994 Tony Award for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and it was easy to see why. Mrs. Potts' teapot dress was covered in intricate beadwork, Belle's signature yellow dress was the quintessential princess dream, and the ensemble members became all sorts of flatware and household utensils during "Be Our Guest." This time around the costumes are simpler. Mrs. Potts, Cogsworth and Lumiere don't face a deeper transformation into a teapot, clock or candelabra in the second act and during the final scene, Belle's gorgeous yellow dress is draped with a thin layer of pink material for unknown reasons.
Audiences are used to see automated set pieces nowadays. That's not the case here. While the cast fluidly moves the houses and storefronts as part of the choreography in the opening village scenes, the staircases used in the castle move slightly less fluidly. The pieces are moved by ensemble members dressed as gargoyles. The effect has potential but ends up being more distracting than it was probably intended to be. Gone are the grandiose staircase, detailed library and west wing. Present instead are proscenium drapes and rolling risers.
One nice addition to this reworking is Basil Twist's puppet designs. They are used in place of costumed actors for the beggar woman, enchantress and wolves. The fanciful element they provide is delightful.
Hilary Maiberger and Darick Pead lead the cast as Belle and The Beast. Maiberger has a clear voice, fits the Disney princess role well and is the bright spot among the cast. One little girl was overheard saying "She's just like the Belle from the movie" on the way out of the theatre. Maiberger embodies Belle just the way you would imagine her to be – caring, determined and passionate.
Pead and many other cast members play their characters a bit over the top. They pander to the audience and seem as if they're trying to make every line a laugh line. Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Robati) and Gaston (Jeff Brooks) can get away with some of this simply based on the way their characters are written but there were times the caricatures could have been dialed down quite a bit.
When all is said and done though, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is sure to delight the young theatre goers in the audience. Watching them watch some of their favorite movie characters come to life right in front of them is a magical moment indeed.
Performances run through November 18th and only a limited number of tickets remain. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is part of PlayhouseSquare's Smart Seats program. Tickets range from $10 to $80. Purchase tickets online at www.playhousesquare.org or by calling the box office at 216.241.6000. The Palace theatre is located at 1615 Euclid Avenue, in the heart of Cleveland's theatre district.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus