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BWW Reviews: NETworks BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Passably Pleases Return Audiences, Truly Impresses New Audiences

On November 23, 1993, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST had its world première at The Music Hall in Houston, TX. Frank Young, TUTS executive director at the time, had been trying to get in touch with the people at Disney to create a stage version since the film premièred in 1991.  Disney contacted George Ives, the head of Actor’s Equity on the West Coast, and asked what LA theatre would be best to house the show, and he suggested TUTS would be the best. At that time, the fates came together and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST had a glorious birth in Houston, TX—one that I particularly remember seeing and enjoying.

Fast forward to 2012 and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is having a strong homecoming with NETworks’ Fourth National Tour of the show. A majority of the original Broadway creative team reconvened for this production—Rob Roth (Director), Matt West (Choreographer), Stanley A. Meyer (Scenic Design), Ann Hould-Ward (Costumes), Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), David H. Lawrence (Hair Designer), Rick Sordelet (Fight Direction), and Jim Steinmeyer (Illusion Design). The new sets created by Stanley A. Meyer are incredibly streamlined and more travel budget conscious; however, they only appear hokey and cheap during the library scene. Ann Hould-Ward’s costuming has been reimagined as well, noticeably losing their grandeur in numbers like “Be Our Guest.” The cuts to the score and book include “No Matter What,” which has been replaced with a dialog scene between Belle and her father about Belle’s mother, “Maison de Lunes,” and the battle scene between the villagers and the enchanted objects. Of the three, the only moment that I actually felt myself missing was the battle scene. This current tour is not as grandiose as the world première of the show, but it still entertains and delights the audience with ease. Moreover, it retains some sensibility of a Disney Theatricals spectacle, with confetti cannons during “Be Our Guest” and a nice transformation sequence in the show’s finale.

Rob Roth and Matt West have directed and choreographed an excellent cast in this production. A large number of the cast (17 from what I hear) are performing in the show for the first time in Houston, and it does not show. This cast is sufficiently rehearsed and appears to have been doing the show for quite some time. I found it difficult to connect emotionally to the plot during the first act, but Rob Roth’s direction for the second act is both heartbreakingly beautiful and sentimentally stunning when needed. Under his direction, the evening’s most memorable moments include “Human Again” and “If I Can’t Love Her (Reprise).” “Be Our Guest” is Act I’s big showstopper and it entertains with the highlight of the number being Jason Wise's performance as the carpet; however, Matt West’s best choreography shines in the metal beer stein dance during Act I’s rousing rendition of “Gaston.”

As Belle, Hilary Maiberger is simply fantastic. Her voice is crystal clear and well controlled. She adroitly conveys emotions, especially when playing stubborn, heartbroken, loyal, and loving.

Darick Pead’s Beast is more a spoiled brat than a tortured soul, and I found myself questioning why he was so whiney. In the long run, he really sells the parable of the spoiled prince turned into hideous beast to the audience. Likewise, it seemed that I was in the minority with my qualms about his portrayal. As a singer, he is good. Act I’s “If I Can’t Love Her” showcased great depth and emotion, especially in the final third of the song. Act II’s “If I Can’t Love Her (Reprise)” was spectacular and gorgeous, causing tears to well up in the audience’s eyes.

Gaston, played by Matt Farcher, was perfectly conceited and full of himself. His voice sounded great. During the first act his microphone kept making a scratching noise and sounded muted, which was an annoyance. Despite this, Matt Farcher performed adeptly and was convincing in his role.

Erin Edelle does well as Mrs. Potts. Her singing voice is not as sweet and lullaby-infused as one might expect, sounding more like Marin Mazzie as she sings “Beauty and the Beast.” Her voice is beautifully trained and dynamic, but her personal sound brings a new element to her songs that I hadn’t heard before. Zachary Maitlin’s Chip is a wonderful compliment to her. He is consistently adorable and perfectly cast.

Jimmy Larkin, as LeFou, was astounding. He has terrific physicality and is an adroit character actor. Each laugh he gleaned from the audience was sincere and hearty. At many moments, he practically stole the show.

Hassan Nazari-Robati as Lumiere and James May as Cogworth were amusing. They play well off of each other, creating a palpable chemistry for the audience. Likewise, Jessica Lorion’s Babbette is fun, bubbly, and plays well with both of her male counterparts.

Shani Hadjian is fun as Madame de la Grande Bouche, especially in the second act when she seemed to let her hair down and just run with the character.

Maurice, portrayed by William A. Martin, is believable and sympathetic. He seems perfectly natural in the role.

The rest of the ensemble adeptly portray their varied roles and provide lush backing vocals in the group numbers.

The orchestrations and orchestra sound nice throughput the show. Comprised of only 10 performers and 1 conductor, they do sound thin in the Overture and Entr’acte, but really pull everything out for the soaring melodies and chilling themes that underscore the more powerful moments in the show.

Natasha Katz’s lighting elements are fantastic and really allow the show to sparkle and shine. She expertly uses lighting effects to mask puppeteers on the wolf puppets and the sleight of hand gimmicks engineered by Jim Steinmeyer. Jim Steinmeyer deserves immense kudos for scaling down the Beast’s final transformation while maintaining enough of the original spectacle to amaze audiences.

NETworks’ Fourth National Tour of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST obviously is lacking the budget of Disney Theatricals productions of the show, but it is still an enjoyable night out at the theatre. This production will passably please those who remember the elegance and grace of the original, but will truly impress those who have not seen the show before. The cast, overall, is a stellar combination of talent that brings the show to life and gives the production its value. The scaled back sets and tricks aren’t cheap and horrible, but they are less than the Disney branding would lead audiences to expect for a professional touring production of the show.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST runs on the Sarofim Stage at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts until September 30, 2012. It’s not here long and tickets have been moving pretty quickly, so if you’d like tickets or more information do not delay visiting or calling (800) 928 – 2787.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

Hilary Maiberger as Belle and Darick Pead as Beast.

Hilary Maiberger as Belle and the Cast of Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

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From This Author David Clarke

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