Theatre review: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

With decent seats to Beauty and the Beast currently on at the QE Theatre pushing $100+ expectations should be high, but while there were some nice moments in this non-equity touring production, you’ll have to decide if they are enough to justify a family evening out that could set you back a car payment.

While the story remains unchanged, for anyone that may have seen the Broadway version of this musical during its impressive 13 year run or even the Arts Club production from a few years back, this reboot and like the many touring shows that have come before it, appears to be more about making things easier for transport than in recreating a Broadway-style show to command Broadway-style prices.

Like the Beast, his castle should be imposing and larger-than-life but in this new version the Beast’s castle is reduced to smaller interlocking set pieces, scrims and painted backdrops that, while giving a cavernous feel, lack the hardness to match the man living there.

Perhaps it was in his less-than-grand surroundings that set the tone for Dane Agostinis’ portrayal of the Beast which was more cowardly lion than terrifying beast. Here Agostinis seems to be playing his character more for laughs than with any of the charisma necessary for us to feel sorry for him. In the act one closer Agostinis struggles with If I can Love Her, but when you follow the energetic and fun Be Our Guest you’ve got to be in top form. Agostini is much more successful in the few tender moments with Belle, including a very touching scene when as he agrees to let her go.

Emily Behny fares better as the heroine Belle, capturing a perfect balance of innocence and stubbornness. Scenes with her father, the perfectly eccentric Christopher Spencer, are among the most heartfelt and her contempt for the advances of Gaston is at times hilarious.

It is Logan Denninghoff as Gaston that breathes some real energy into this show. A buffoon without being cartoonish, Denninghoff’s precision is matched only by his beautiful baritone voice, easily the best of the night. Michael Haller’s Lumiere is an absolute delight and pays great homage to Jerry Orbach’s equally wonderful performance in the 1991 movie, on which this show is based.

The cast of the national touring company of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  Photo by Joan Marcus.
The cast of the national touring company of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  Photo by Joan Marcus.

As for that Disney magic we’ve come to expect, it’s hard not to appreciate Chip in a cart that appears to be see-through, top hats that are plucked from the set in the show-stopper Be Our Guest and even the Beast’s transformation at the end of the show.

The one piece of magic though that seemed to be missing is in the rose itself and with the rose an iconic part of this story’s imagery it gets little of the respect it deserves.  As each major event in the story transpires a petal from the Beast’s rose falls to the ground, signaling how little time he has left to find love. In this production the rose is all but lost among the intricate design of set pieces and the tension it can generate is missing without a clear focus on it and its pedals as they fall.

With a 3D version of the film currently in movie theatres you may want to satisfy the youngster’s (and perhaps your own) cravings for this Disney classic with a trip to the movie house. You’ll even have enough left-over for popcorn.

3 Out of 5 Stars Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
8 – 12 February 2012

Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Bob Roth. Musical direction by Michael Kosarin. A NETWorks presentation. On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre through February 12, 2012. Visit http://www.beautyandthebeastontour.com for tickets and information.

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