Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The stage version, which debuted in 1994, maintains the story of the 1991 animated filmthat of a young woman named 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 earn that person's love in return 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 show debuted on Broadway in 1994.
Linda Woolverton, who wrote the screenplay for the animated feature, provides the book for the stage adaptation as well. The story interweaves romance, fantasy, broad comedy, and moral lessons into a fun and intriguing tale. For the stage, the main characters are much more fully realized and developed (the new songs help greatly in this area). In addition, 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. In this mounting, some scenes (including a very funny one where the townsfolk enter the castle and are attacked by the castle objects) have been cut or replaced by lesser material in comparison to the Broadway edition.
The score for the original film was by the talented duo of Alan Menken (music) and the late Howard Ashman (lyrics). All of their fine songs, 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 mix with the originals and add needed depth to the characters. For those familiar with the Broadway score, "No Matter What," a song for Belle's father, and "Maison des Lunes" are absent from this production.
Beauty and the Beast offers many opportunities for performers to showcase their talents. Brooke Quintana is an endearing and spunky Belle. Her singing is clear and pleasant, and she's a solid actress, if a bit melodramatic at times. As the Beast, Sam Hartley provides strong vocals and earns plenty of laughs while emphasizing the character's social awkwardness. Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek displays clear, baritone vocals as Gaston, and he and Matt DaSilva (as Lefou) get lots of laughs via their physical comedy. Also providing fine performances in supporting roles are Ryan N. Phillips (Lumiere), Stephanie Gray (Mrs. Potts), Samuel Shurtleff (Cogsworth), Stephanie Harter Gilmore (Madame de la Grande Bouche), Thomas Mothershed (Maurice), Deandre Horner (Chip), and Melissa Jones (Babette). The nearly thirty cast members do well in maintaining a high level of energy throughout the show.
As on Broadway and earlier tours, Rob Roth is the director. He provides the show with a brisk pace, active blocking, and a strong connection between characters, but the stage magic of the piece is diminished greatly as compared to New York and early tours of the show. Matt West provides visually fun and lively choreography which is highlighted in "Be Our Guest" and "Gaston." Musical director Shane Parus capably leads the fine orchestra.
On Broadway, Beauty and the Beast had a lavish and large scale scenic design. Though Stanley A. Meyer is once again the designer, his work is substantially cheaper looking and not visually appealing. Instead of an impressive castle, we get a door and two small staircases that are distractingly moved by actors dressed in mysterious, but extremely vague, costumesare they supposed to be gargoyles? Previously impressive set pieces such as the castle's library and Gaston's lodge are now minimal. The attractive costumes (save those mentioned above) by Ann Hould-Ward garnered a Tony Award. Natasha Katz provides her usual wonderful lighting with a number of well-suited special effects.
The current national tour of Disney's Beauty and the Beast showcases a mix of professional performers, songs, and a story that have been expanded from the animated film (but smaller than that found on Broadway), and a disappointing set design. Audiences seeking a family-friendly piece with talented performers will find this production apt. And a note to parentsthe show is 2.5 hours in length, so use good judgment on whether small children are up to the task of attending. There were many children on opening night that were too young to sit quietly through the show, and were a distraction to others.
Beauty and the Beast continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through April 24, 2016. Tickets can be ordered by calling 1-800-294-1816 or visiting www.cincinnatiarts.org/aronoff-center. For more information on the tour, visit www.beautyandthebeastontour.com.