Emily Behny as Belle. Photo by Joan Marcus.
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Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST presented by Broadway in Cincinnati through Oct. 9. You can read the show description here.
Theater fan[atics] may be familiar with FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, “a cabaret revue sharply spoofing show tunes, characters and plots of contemporary and current Broadway musicals.” FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: 2001 A SPOOF ODYSSEY included the number, “Beauty’s Been Decreased,” a song lamenting the downsizing of the musical on Broadway. As goes Broadway, so does NETwork’s current touring production.
First what works. The show would totally fall apart without a strong Belle. Thankfully, Emily Behny has the talent to handle the role. Fun and appropriately over-the-top comic performances are turned in by Logan Denninghoff as Gaston and Andrew Kruep as an acrobatic Lefou. Julia Louise Hosack also gives a strong vocal performance as Mrs. Potts. However, the Beast’s solo and a personal favorite, “If I Can’t Love Her,” received a Henry Higgins-esque talk/sing rendition. A style that I never enjoy on stage.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
Unfortunately the energy level of Belle, Gaston and Lefou is not matched by the enchanted inhabitants of the castle. Because they are heavily-costumed, the characters of Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts and Madame de la Grande Bouche need to work harder to bring spark and personality to these animated, inanimate objects.
What doesn’t work for this production is the quality of the costumes and set.
The weakest costumes for the named characters include French maid Babette, who looks like, well, a French maid even when under the enchantment. Madame de la Grande Bouche is transformed into a wardrobe in name only. Also troubling are some strangely placed buttons on the front of the Beast’s pants.
Hugo, Laverne and Victor from Disney's animated film, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.
As for the set, the pieces for the town work well and feel true to the movie. Conversely, the castle pieces come off as flimsy and cheap. Platforms that sag under the actor’s weight. Spiral railings that appear to be made out of plastic tubing. When a high-backed chair was manually set on stage for the ballroom meal, the back of the chair, literally, swayed back and forth several times. The set changes within the castle are handled by cast members dressed as gargoyles. I understand the reasoning behind this, but it didn’t really work for me. Perhaps the costume designer got their films mixed up.
The shortcomings collide in the musical number, “Be Our Guest.” The 16 or so-person ensemble works hard but the number feels flat. There is ALOT of gold fabric on stage. The knives, the salt/pepper shakers, and (I think they were) napkins, all gold. What wasn’t gold? The plates were made of white fabric stretched over a circular frame held aloft by the female ensemble. Which worked until they were folded (???) around their shoulders in the choreography. The number also included the only appearance of the pink “carpet” (why?), although the word “welcome” on the costume would indicate it was a pink door mat, to do some tumbling during the dance break.
Also disappointing was the final battle in the castle. The comedic side of the fight, between the mob and the enchanted items, was totally cut. Instead it goes immediately into the confrontation between Gaston and the Beast, which seemed a tad bit too long and violent.
Bottom line. For young or inexperienced theater-goers, this production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will be satisfying. If you have seen previous productions, or if you expect the spectacle of THE LION KING, you will probably be disappointed.
Click here for a complete list of showtimes.