BWW Reviews: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at The Bushnell is Disney on Ice, Hold the Ice
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Theatre: The Bushnell
Location: 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT
Production: Book by Linda Wolverton, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice; Directed by Rob Roth; Choreography by Matt West; Scenic Design by Stanley A. Meyer; Lighting Design by Natasha Katz; Costume Design by Ann Hould-Ward; Sound Design by John Petrafesa, Jr.. Through May 11; Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.; Tickets $30-$90, call 860-987-5900 or visit www.bushnell.org.
The stage musical version of the Disney animated Beauty and the Beast manages to bring out both the best and the worst of modern commercial theatre. In some ways, it is gloriously beautiful and, in other ways, it's kind of hideous. Sort of like...hmmmm... Maybe it would be better to review the show this way:
Let's focus on the things that are beautiful about this musical! First and foremost, the gorgeous score that you love from the cartoon classic. All of the songs that you know by heart are here: "Be Our Guest," "Belle," and, of course, "Beauty and the Beast." Built on a solid Broadway sound, the tunes are equally at home on stage as they were on the screen.
As the initial lyricist, Howard Ashman, died after the completion of the film and before the creation of the musical, Tim Rice stepped in to work on new songs with Alan Menken. Surprisingly, most of these songs are charmers, too, particularly "Home" and "If I Can't Love Her." The creative team even found room in the show to restore Ashman and Menken's cut masterpiece from the film, "Human Again."
Although trimmed down from the enormous Broadway and original touring production, the show currently on view at The Bushnell is still eye-popping and colorful. With fewer solid set elements, the various drops, flats and rolling scenery fill the stage attractively. Set designer Stanley A. Meyer manages to keep a Grimmsian feel about this "tale as old as time," without making it seem tired.
The cast works their collective tails off to keep the production moving along. The voices are uniformly lovely and characters that are expanded for the stage production come off as enjoyable, particularly Stephanie Moskal as the saucy Babette and Roxy York as Madame de la Grande Bouche.
THE BEAST'S REVIEW
RAWRRRRR! I felt this way when I saw the original production and this production reinforced it: Beauty and the Beast as a musical feels like a bizarre metaphysical exercise where humans are made to act like cartoons drawn to resemble humans. The anthropomorphic dinnerware has as much depth as the humans and vice versa. This is particularly off-putting because, well, the Beast and all of the bric-a-brac in his castle long to be human.
The result is that the show slavishly mimics the absolutely charming animated feature on which it was drawn. Cast members were clearly directed to sing and act identical to their film counterparts. The musical feels like Disney on Ice without the skating or a theme park attraction with all of the elements dutifully in place with only some of the thrills. Reviewing the individual performances seems futile as one knows that once an actor leaves this tour, they will likely be replaced by another animatronic human being.
Yes, the production numbers like "Be Our Guest" and "Human Again" have the feeling of a Broadway extravaganza, but the whole affair seems a bit hollow. When one examines the artistry that Disney applied to their next stage adaptation, Julie Taymor's daring take on The Lion King, Beauty and The Beast seems almost destitute of creativity.
The running time of over 2-and-a-half hours seems long when the source material is less than 90 minutes. Being aimed primarily at children (and the adults who want to introduce their children or grandchildren to a much-loved film), this leads to some antsiness from their target market. In order to avoid this, director Rob Roth amps up the slapstick, humor and, in some instances, volume to maintain attention.
The Tony Award-winning costume design by Ann Hould-Ward is a bit baffling. Certain characters, like Belle, The Beast and Gaston, have their outfits from the film essentially recreated in three dimensions. The costumes representing Lumiere (the candelabra), Madame de la Grande Bouche (the wardrobe), Babette (the feather duster), and others barely resemble the household objects that they are. For a production that is in every other way literal, this may leave children who have not seen the film wondering what these characters are supposed to be, especially when many of these objects tower over Belle.
Of course, Disney is relying on the fact that people have seen the film to fill in the blanks, just as it is relying on parents taking their kids straight to the merchandise booths so that they can go home dressed like Belle. It's a big product and, to my mind, that's fairly beastly. RAWWWRRRR!
Cast photo by Joan Marcus.