Review: Beauty and the Beast (Broadway in Chicago)

| July 2, 2011 | 1 Comment
  
  

Timeless story transcends wobbly production

  
  

Benjamin Lovell, Jen Bechter, Michael Haller, Erin Elizabeth Coors, Julia Louise Hosack, and Noah Jones as Chip

  
Broadway in Chicago and NETworks present
  
  
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
 
Book by Linda Woolverton, Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Directed by Rob Roth
at Ford Center for the Performing Arts, 24 W. Randolph (map)
through August 7  |  tickets: $18-$85  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

The love story between a beautiful girl and a beastly prince has staying power—the original French fairy tale is centuries old. The most recent reincarnation, a horrendous movie featuring an Olson twin, at least illustrates how the tale is still in the modern consciousness. Let’s not forget there was also that ‘80s TV show. The quintessential telling of the story, however, will always be Disney’s 1991 smash hit full of dancing home furnishings, the only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture until Pixar Dane Agostinis (The Beast) and Emily Behny (Belle)came along. Logically, Alan Menken’s catchy music in the movie was transformed into a Broadway musical. Now it’s a favorite of high schools around the country. And a new non-Equity tour that’s settling down at the Oriental.

Dollar for dollar, a high school production may be the better value.

Let me qualify that—the performances here are not so bad. The spectacle is pretty neat most of the time. But it’s outrageous that people are shelling out 85 bucks when there is exponentially better theatre in town for a fraction of the price.

The plot follows the story and music of the film closely, with a few stage adjustments to flesh out the characters. The living cutlery looks more human. It’s not as innovative as Julie Taymor’s The Lion King (remember when she was innovative?) but it ain’t plush costumes, either. In fact, the screen-to-stage adaption is graceful and embraces the challenges of the medium.

What’s going on at the Oriental, though, is a roughly-sketched copy of the original. The town’s wishing well is wobbly. The orchestra is stripped down to the bare minimum. And the performances are terribly broad, almost across the board.

Dane Agostinis’ Beast, for example, is pretty un-beastly. Agostinis goes for some weird comic choices that diminish the character. It works for the awkward courtship, but not so much when he is supposed to terrify us. Most of the comic relief characters have a similar problem with commitment to the material. Benjamin Lovell’s Cogsworth gets too caught up in trying to appear stuffy and so he never actually comes across as stuffy. Andrew Kruep’s clownish Lefou (Gaston’s bumbling sidekick) has some great physical bits—he pulls a few moves that look like he stepped out of a cartoon—but he doesn’t back them up with the emotional stakes great clowning requires.

Logan Denninghoff as Gaston, Andrew Kruep as Lefou, and the villagers in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast". Photo by Joan Marcus

Emily Behny’s Belle carries the show well enough. She doesn’t always portray Belle’s driving individuality, but she taps into her sense of humor and genuine sweetness. Logan Denninghoff plays her foil, Gaston, with gusto, something Agostinis could learn from. Michael Haller’s lecherous Lumiere is another shining performance (pardon the pun). His amusing goofiness trumps most of the other objects’ posturing.

This Beauty and the Beast feels fundamentally cheap. Instead of reevaluating concepts and execution, it feels like NETworks is trying to put up a Broadway-level show with a much smaller budget. The diminished orchestra fails to fill the space and many of the ensemble numbers seem empty of vibrancy. “Be Our Guest,” one of the most cherished numbers of the original, is anticlimactic no matter how much Haller hams it up. They should have took the show back to the drawing board and played up their strengths.

Nevertheless, the classic parable of inner beauty wins out. This non-equity tour is much less fun than the movie, but it has its fair share of magic up its sleeves. The tour feels like an imitation in every sense. If you’ve always hankered to see the animation in real life, this is something you should check out. Otherwise, I’d implore you to see something local with more spirit.

  
  
Rating: ★★
   

 Emily Behny as Belle, and the cast of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" in the number "Be Our Guest". Photo by Joan Marcus

   

artists

cast

Emily Behny, Dane Agostinis, Logan Denninghoff, Andrew Kruep, Julia Louise Hosack, Michael Haller, Benjamin Lovell, Erin Elizabeth Coors, Christopher Spencer, Jen Bechter, Noah Jones, Sebastian Hedges Thomas, Nate Suggs, David Baur, Jeff Brooks, Carly Casey, Brittany Conigatti, Robyn Deguzman, Anthony Fett, Gabriela Gamache, Brian Kess, Carter Lynch, Clifford Lyons, Taylor Hilt Mitchell, Sarah Rolleston, Sarah Claire Smith, Mandy Striph, Allyson Tolbert, Chandon Jones, Caitlin Leary, Michael Whitney

behind the scenes

Rob Roth (director); Carolyn Violi (musical director); Matt West (choreography); Michael Kosarin (music supervisor); Stanley A. Meyer (sets); Ann Hould-Ward (costumes); Natasha Katz (lighting); John Petrafesa, Jr. (sound design); David H. Lawrence (hair design); Rick Sordelet (fight director); Jim Steinmeyer (illusion design); Basil Twist (puppet design); Sam Scalamoni (associate director); Connor Gallagher (associate choreographer); David Zack (stage manager); Jason Juenker (production manager); Joan Marcus (photos)

  

Beauty and the Beast

All photos by Joan Marcus

   

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Category: 2011 Reviews, Barry Eitel, Broadway in Chicago, Ford Center for the Perfoming Arts, Musical, National Tours, Now Playing, Oriental Theatre (Ford)

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