When the stage adaptation of the animated film Beauty and the Beast opened on Broadway in 1994, many within the industry unfairly berated the production and claimed that the show was the start of Disney overtaking the Great White Way and turning it into a theme park. In actuality, what Disney has done (with Beauty, The Lion King, and Aida) is produce three well-rendered and successful musicals that bring tourists to Broadway, introduce young people to theater, and employ actors and backstage personnel. As their initial effort, Beauty and the Beast remains a fun, professional, and handsome show, as demonstrated by the national tour currently playing at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati.
The stage version of the full-length cartoon musical maintains the story of the young woman, Belle, who becomes a prisoner in the castle of the Beast. The creature is actually a prince who is under a spell. He must find someone to love, and to return that love, before the last pedal falls from the enchanted rose, or he will remain a beast forever. With the help of the likewise spellbound servants of the castle, the Beast must make Belle see past his hideous exterior.
The book for Beauty and the Beast is by Linda Woolverton, who also wrote the screenplay for the animated feature. The story interweaves romance, fantasy, broad comedy, and moral lessons into a fun and intriguing tale. For the stage, the characters are much more fully realized and developed (the new songs help greatly in this area). For this adaptation, the servants are gradually changing into household objects, rather than already being fully transformed, thus making their desperation to have the spell broken even more urgent.
The score for the original film was by talented duo of Alan Menken (music) and the late Howard Ashman (lyrics). All of their fine songs from the cartoon version, including now classic tunes such as "Be Our Guest" and the title number, are included here, as well as "Human Again," which was composed for the film but not used. In addition, Menken and lyricist Tim Rice have augmented the original score with a number of wonderful new songs. With Menken's gifted melodies and Rice's well-crafted words, "Home," "If I Can't Love Her," and the other new material effectively mixes with the originals and add needed depth to the characters.
This show provides ample opportunities to showcase a number of performers. Jennifer Shrader is a strong-willed Belle and demonstrates a fully competent singing voice. However, there is a certain degree of sweetness that is expected for the character and that level is not quite met in Ms. Shrader's portrayal. As the Beast, Roger Befeler does well in communicating the social awkwardness of the creature. He displays an attractive vocal instrument, but his singing lacks the power that a character such as the Beast should possess. Marc G. Dalio and Aldrin Gonzalez get many laughs and are audience favorites as Gaston and Lefou, respectively. Also providing fine performances in supporting roles are Rob Lorey (Lumiere), Mary Jo McConnell (Mrs. Potts), Andrew Boyer (Cogsworth), Monica M. Wemitt (Madame de la Grande Bouche), Jamie Ross (Maurice), and Tracy Generalovich (Babette). The nearly thirty cast members do well in carrying a high level of energy throughout the show.
Director Robert Jess Roth sustains a generally quick pace and appropriate tone, and provides some very smooth scene transitions. The visually fun and lively choreography by Matt West is highlighted in "Be Our Guest" and "Gaston."
The show's lavish and formidable scenic design by Stanley A. Meyer includes many large pieces and uses several eye-catching special effects. The intricate costumes by Ann Hould-Ward garnered her a Tony Award for the musical. The costumes for the servants change to correspond to their ever-increasing move from being humans to objects, and the designer has splendidly mixed characteristics of both together.
Natasha Katz provides her usual wonderful lighting, which aids greatly in providing the suitable atmosphere for the piece. The sound effects and design by Jonathan Deans are also very proficiently rendered.
The current national tour of Disney's Beauty and the Beast is a finely crafted and capably performed stage adaptation of the well-known animated feature and is sure to please audience members of all ages. Another family friendly musical, Seussical, is next up in the Broadway in Cincinnati Series. Beauty and the Beast continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through January 12, 2003. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816.