Theater review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Here’s my review of the touring version of Beauty and the Beast, in Daytona Beach through tonight:

By Elizabeth Maupin
Elizabeth Maupin on Theater

Clearly the good folks at Disney didn’t have a lot of latitude when they were naming Beauty and the Beast, the international megahit that has come to Daytona Beach in a bus-and-truck production this week. But I wonder if they had any idea how appropriate their title was going to be.

There are slivers of beauty in the NETworks tour, just as there have been in the Broadway production and the handful of other versions I’ve seen. But Beauty and the Beast is also a beast of a show – garish, loud, sometimes cheesy and theatrically so run-of-the-mill that you have to wonder whether imagination played any part in it at all.

OK, you say. It is what it is. And the current tour, in Daytona just one more night, is all that and more – with an able cast, including the gifted Orlando actor Keith Kirkwood as the talking clock Cogsworth, as the drawing point to a show that lots of people love.

Monday night’s performance featured understudy Sarah Rolleston going on in place of Liz Shivener as Belle, and Rolleston did what understudies tend to do: She proved to be terrific – strong, gutsy and clear-voiced – in the part. (Orlandoan Gabriela Gamache also understudies Belle; Shivener is expected to go back on tonight.)

Nathaniel Hackmann has all the swagger of a proper Gaston, even if, like Gaston, he seems more mechanical than human. And Justin Glaser makes a terrific Beast – although he’s so cute and dimply as the falling-in-love monster that his Prince (who seems to be having a bad hair day) is something of a disappointment at the end.

Of the supporting characters, I hope it’s not bias to say that Kirkwood is the standout: With a pencil-thin mustache and a twinkle in his eye, he brings warmth and a much-needed humanity to the fuss-budget Cogsworth.

But the current tour, which boasts most of the creative team from the Broadway production, has all the clunkiness that the Broadway version suffered, just in a smaller form. The costumes, which inexplicably won designer Ann Hould-Ward a Tony on Broadway, often look nothing like what they’re supposed to be: Mrs. Potts doesn’t resemble a teapot (except for her outstretched arm); Madame de la Grande Bouche looks nothing like a wardrobe, and so on.

Elements of Stanley A. Meyer’s ornate set design remind me of the flocked wallpaper of a bad French restaurant. And my guest and I couldn’t figure out why the Beast seems to have canine teeth growing through his beard.

At Daytona’s 61-year-old Peabody Auditorium, the sound Monday night was so over-loud and tinny that we had to put our fingers in our ears. But that didn’t stop the opening-night audience from adoring the show. “Be Our Guest” had the crowd in raptures (if only because that song is louder and gaudier than all the rest). And  we could hear delighted laughter throughout from the small fry in the audience, who probably aren’t as put off by overwrought design elements as I am.

That’s the key to Beauty and the Beast: It’s honey to the people who love Disney musicals, and to cynics it still has its charms. The uptight talking clock and extravagant talking candelabra are sure-fire crowd-pleasers (even if the child-turned-into-a-teacup comes across as creepy). The book-loving Belle is a worthy heroine. And the warmth of the relationship between her and the Beast can bring around even the most skeptical members of the audience. Fairy tales work, it turns out – even, sometimes, for grumps like me.

‘Beauty and the Beast’
What: NETworks touring production of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman-Tim Rice-Linda Woolverton musical.
Where: Peabody Auditorium, 600 Auditorium Blvd., Daytona Beach.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday April 20.
Cost: $39-$59.
Call: 386-671-3462.

Photos: Top, Justin Glaser as the Beast. Middle, Nathaniel Hackmann as Gaston and the ensemble. Bottom, Liz Shivener as Belle and the ensemble in “Be Our Guest.” All photos by Joan Marcus.

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