BWW Reviews: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Wilts at Warner

By: Jan. 08, 2015
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Belle (Jillian Butterfield) and Beast (Ryan Everett Wood). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Disney is known for bringing the magic to its theatrical events, but there's no enchantment in this touring production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST currently playing at Warner Theatre. Instead, NETworks has skimped on the production values and has presented a night of theater that is often tacky and rarely captivating. In other words, this BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is more beastly than beauty.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is the Disneyfied take on the immortal fairytale about Belle, a beautiful French girl who accepts imprisonment in the castle of a beast in exchange for her father's freedom. Of course, the beast turns out to be a handsome prince under a spell and when Belle finally sees past his frightening exterior and falls in love with him the spell is broken and he is returned to his former self in order to live forever happily with Belle.

The 1991 animated classic from the Disney renaissance was adapted for the Broadway stage in 1994 directed by Rob Roth with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and a book by Linda Woolverton. The stage version came complete with new, (often unnecessary), songs, plenty of added exposition, and much more slapstick, but was an undisputed hit, playing 5,461 performances to become Broadway's 9th longest-running show. While the New York Times originally raved about its "eye-boggling spectacle" back in 94, the past 20 years have allowed plenty of time for the spell to wear off, and the current production feels like a mere shadow of what once was.

Every element of this production has been vastly simplified from the original, as can be expected this kind of tour, but the current show lacks the crafty ingenuity to make the more minimalist BEAUTY feel like anything other than a let down. With a design heavy on surreal backdrops and light on set pieces, it's hard to see the magic when every cartoonish house or staircase has to be lugged around on stage and then carefully positioned into place by ensemble members, (dressed as gargoyles with six packs and tails no less, think HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME meets CATS.) That and costumes that wouldn't look out of place in the Halloween aisle of Party City made this production feel less like an adaptation of the film and more like a shallow approximation of an animated world that doesn't seem at home on stage. The spotlights lit up the stage with all the grace of floodlights and the strobe lights placed conspicuously on either side of the stage only served to blind the audience once each act. Cheesy sound effects every time an actor took a punch or a pratfall proved more distracting than enhancing, and the mics fizzled and popped throughout. However, all singing and speaking was clear and understandable. In general, all the technical elements of the show were executed well under the supervision of Production Manager Laura Dieli and Stage Manager Kelsey Tippins but lacked any real shine or finesse. The ten-piece orchestra under the musical direction of conductor Kevin Finn glided through Menken's soaring score, though it's a pity that NETworks opted for the reduced instrumentation.

All that being said, the cast, complete with a strong, triple-threat filled ensemble, performed admirably, soaking in the audience's energy. So much so that a significant portion of the production's surprisingly long two and a half hour runtime seems to stem from elaborate schticky routines. Patrick Pevehouse and Samuel Shurtleff had great comedic chemistry as the duo of Lumiere and Cogsworth, and Kelly Teal Goyette had amazing stage presence as Madame de la Grande Bouche. Cameron Bond stole the show with his full commitment and macho antics in the role of Gaston, and Jake Bridges kept things moving as Gaston's silly, somersaulting sidekick Lefou. Jillian Butterfield and Ryan Everett Wood's Belle and Beast were both spot on but lacked the passion and excitement to make sparks fly.

Seeing beyond any shortcomings, the audience was nothing if not entertained. Children and adults alike shrieked with delight when streamers were blasted out into the audience during "Be Our Guest", (admittedly a stunt more suited for a pep rally then the theater but it did the trick.) Parents laughed at the innuendo between Lumiere and Babette while their kids snickered at almost anything else. During one scene a young boy shouted out "it's getting funnier and funnier by the second." And this isn't really surprising. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is such a family staple, and the film is such a classic, that no production will ever be as powerful as the imagination-fueled memories of its loving fans, young and old, and even very young and very old. If there's something this production does quite well it's simply that it keeps a classic alive and continues to make the live experience of BEAUTY accessible. So just like Belle rereading the same books over and over again, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Warner Theatre will not disappoint those yearning for one more fix of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice's hit musical. But for those looking for spectacular theater that stands on its own, unfortunately this one doesn't.

Runtime: approximately two and a half hours with one 20 minute intermission.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST runs through January 11th at Warner Theatre, 513 13th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets, visit the Warner Theatre box office, ticketmaster.com, warnertheatredc.com, or call 800-745-300. For information regarding groups of ten or more tickets please call the Warner Theatre box office at 800-551-7328.



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