Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review of "Beauty and the Beast" - National Tour in Hartford

The basic question about the current national tour of Beauty and the Beast, now at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT through May 11th, is whether the very young will enjoy the show.  Based on the reception the musical received from this core group opening night, the answer is a resounding yes.  However, for older individuals (not accompanying sons, daughters, or grandchildren), the production is less satisfying.

Beauty and the Beast is based on the acclaimed Disney film of the same name (if you know the tale, skip to the next paragraph).  It follows Belle, a daydreaming romantic from a small village.  Her simple life is complicated by the vain, brawny, dunderhead, Gaston, who has set his sights on marrying the beautiful, brainy, young lass.   Through happenstance, while lost in the forest searching for her father, she stumbles onto the castle of the Beast, a prince transformed by a spurned sorceress years earlier.  His servants have also been magically changed to humanized furniture, dishware, and other furnishings.  At first a captive, Belle soon becomes enchanted with the creature and their relationship grows.  This development could mean salvation for the Beast and his staff as true love between the two would break the curse and return everyone to their human forms.  Time, though, is not on their side as Gaston and the townspeople are looking to storm the stronghold.  If the enchanted rose, left by the witch and housed in the fortress, loses all its petals before their love fully blossoms, the castle and all its occupants will forever retain their ill-fated forms. 

The musical has enough familiar songs, enchanting characters, and large-scale dance numbers to keep young children captivated.  But keeping the tykes enthralled (or is it distracted) has its drawbacks.  Many in the cast, especially Darick Pead as the Beast, overly emote and seem more interested in squeezing out laughs and schtick.  This gives the overall production more of a cartoon feel unlike the original Broadway run, which found just the right balance between two-dimensional and three-dimensional characters.  The sets and award winning costumes have been pared down, which minimizes their impact.  Again, for those between 6-9 these concerns are immaterial, but for older viewers they are disappointing.

So, can all I do is whine?  No.  There are a number of strong points to the production.  First, is the wonderful score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice.  The songs are tuneful and memorable.  They include “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “If I Can’t Love Her.”  They are beautifully sung and, with the large ensemble numbers, well choreographed.  Second, the actors, for the most part, give it their all.  Belle, played with spunk and determination by Hilary Maiberger, has a beautiful voice that, projects well in the cavernous Bushnell even if her speaking voice was too often so low that it was hard to hear.  This was a pervasive problem with many of the cast throughout the show.  Darick Pead, as the Beast, when he isn’t hamming it up, can give the role poignancy and compassion.  Tim Rogan is arrogant and self-assured as Gaston, but he also imbues the rascal with an undercurrent of deviousness and mean-spiritedness.   Jordan Aragon as LeFou, Gaston’s fawning sidekick, would have had a great career in vaudeville with all his well-timed pratfalls and foolishness.  Other performers--James May as the fussy Cogsworth, Hassan Nazari-Robati as the womanizing Lumiere, Kristin Stewart as the level-headed Mrs. Potts, and the scene stealing Tony D’Alelio as the acrobatic carpet, are appealing and enjoyable.

Beauty and the Beast, perfect for the little ones, questionable for older ones, at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through May 11th.

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