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BWW Reviews: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at the Hippodrome: It's a Magical World After All


If you wish to escape the bleak freeze of January in the happy land of Disney but can't get to Orlando, go to the Hippodrome. Strap yourself into a theater seat and get swept up in the ravishing theatrical ride of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

The original creative team, including director Rob Roth, has returned to re-imagine the story of the transformative power of love.

Belle is a beautiful, young woman who lives in a small French village with her inventor father. The Beast is a prince punished by an enchantress for being spoiled and unkind. He must learn to love and be loved in return or he and all in his castle will be doomed forever.

Disney shows are rich visual feasts of high-caffeine entertainment. To follow the recipe: start with a baroque fairy tale setting. Pour lavish costumes on top of intricate choreography. Mix in elements of Jean Cocteau's haunting 1946 version of La Belle et La Bête. Combine with show-stopping Busby Berkeley numbers. Add in some Lion King, and then start singing.

The show is constantly moving and transforming. It could all fall apart, but for the boundless energy of the Disney cast and crew. They bounced right over some glitches in the sound system during the first act and really gelled in the second. A palpable feeling of joy leapt right off the stage. Nothing compares to live theater when the performers give it their all, and the audience joyfully receives it.

Hilary Maiberger showcases all the qualities that make Belle a model of the new Disney heroine. She's smart, sweet, and brave but still loves a good ball gown. She also possesses the lovely singing voice that is de rigueur. The Beast needs to be both menacing and sympathetic. Darick Pead puts his heart into the tortured character and uses his voice and manner to convey the romantic hero hidden beneath a whole lot of costume.

The secondary characters are so essential the show is really more of an ensemble. They manage to sing, dance and project despite having to masquerade as inanimate objects. Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Robati) is so delightfully lecherous he should get his own show along with the ideal French maid turned feather duster, Babette. Perpetually wound up Cogsworth (James May) and Mrs. Potts (Erin Edelle), keeper of the show's anthem, are especially sympathetic. Gaston (Joe Hager)is a little too Elvis, and his side kick, Lefou (Jimmy Larkin), is not quite up to pulling off the deceivingly difficult task of pure physical humor.

The show overflows with musical numbers; they actually got rid of one or two songs from the original score. They left out the first act duet between Belle and her father which is a shame. As someone pointed out, this is just as much a father/daughter story as a romance. After all, Belle sacrifices herself to save her father.

There is a fine line between fantastical and phantasmagoric or just frenetic. A little pruning on the excessively ornate and, yes, cartoonish might serve to highlight the skill of the performers and the beauty of the story even more.

Still in this world of cynics, minimalists, high brow purists, and cranky people who watch too much "reality" TV, it's nice to know some are willing to risk go over the top for the romantic and hopeful.

Those who think Disney is all fluff and sparkle don't recognize that both the man and the brand have always understood the place of fantasy and archetypal psychology in the modern, commercial world. There is a melancholy desperation that gives this fairy tale depth. Disney recognizes the dark side. It just doesn't let it win.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST plays through February3, 2013 at the Hippodrome, located at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets may be purchased by calling (410) 837-7400 or by going online at www.france-merrick

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