Image © Disney
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton
Directed by Frank Goodloe III
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Beauty and the Beast is almost a “…tale as old as time”, originally written by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve in 1740 and then adapted by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont into its first popular version in 1756.
But Walt Disney is the modern age’s Brothers Grimm, so once the multi-billion dollar corporate giant produced the 1991 animated film it became THE point of reference on this story. This stage adaptation of that film, which was remade as a live-action feature in 2017, adds several songs but maintains the Disney plotline. All of which is to say that the “Disney” brand Beauty and the Beast may have taken up all of the available space. We may never know another.
Personally, my allegiance is to Jean Cocteau’s magnificent 1946 French-language film, which partially inspired Disney’s take on the material, but I am also a fan of the animated movie and its swooning romanticism. The biggest failing of the stage adaptation is the inclusion of other songs, some of which are narratively redundant, and all of which miss the magic of “Gaston”, “Be Our Guest”, or the title love song.
So it is the little secret of local companies producing these stage versions that they are likely to be underappreciated as little more than reminders of the thing we love. Youngsters in the audience sang along, as did their parents, who were probably the same age when they saw the Disney original in the multiplex, but the songs with which they joined in were the original Ashman – Menken score and not the additions for Broadway.
Still, director Frank Goodloe III and a talented cast work hard to make an impression, despite a few drawbacks. Patrick Jump’s many sets are colorful evocations of storybook aesthetic, and moved smoothly through what seemed like a dizzying number of transitions. Melissa Shepherd’s costumes followed suit, and matched our expectations for the unusual profiles of the enchanted figures: candlesticks, clocks, teapots, and, best of all, an exquisitely detailed baroque wardrobe.
Kirstie Buckley was a lovely Belle, and she sang beautifully, even if the character cannot help but be revealed as one of the blandest of the Disney Princesses. She’s at her most interesting comically fending off bully suitor Gaston in the early scenes, and she looks radiant in the magnificent, wedding-cake crinoline dress of the finale.
If Alonzo Richmond was not as fearsome and intimidating as he might have been as Beast, he expresses the noble heart of the character in his voice and sings well, especially in a powerful version of “If I Can’t Love Her.”
David Galloway was a perfectly arrogant Gaston, as much of a boor and a bully as is required. He seemed to be having a blast playing that guy. Landon Sholar was a highlight of the show as Lumiere, and was allowed to make the amorous Gallic candleholder a bit raunchy. Austin Seely was an outrageous Cogsworth, Erin Jump a G rated sexy Babette, and Susan Hahn was delightful as Madame De La Grande Bouche, using her restricted movement to good comic effect and boasting an impressive operative voice.
Zoe Wolf did a good job as Chip and Kristy Calman channeled the spirit of Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts, although opening night problems with microphones rendered her performance of the title song nearly impossible to hear. The problem reoccurred for other principals as well, including Mr. Sholar’s Lumiere. It kept “Be My Guest” from being all that it should be, although I also felt the number suffered from being overstuffed with choreography and physical business that undercut its impact. The second act group number “Human Again” was altogether more tidy in its presentation.
Such overexertion is one of the risks from stage adaptations required to emulate the “effortless” charm and magic of animated fantasy. Its part of that Disney brand; people expect some spectacle, even if the most potent moments are sometimes the smallest.
The musicians struggled a bit to overcome some wheezy horns, but the percussion was on the mark and the beat remained steady.
Like so many fairy tales, the ending is not unhappy but cannot help but feel too pat, even while it reinforces the moral. That is the nature of the genre. Whatever glitches may be found in this Beauty and the Beast, it accomplishes its goals with charm, energy, and enough talent to inspire all of the children in the audience, and perhaps a few adults too.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
July 18, 20, 22, 27, 29, August 1 & 3 @ 7:30 pm
August 2 @ 2 pm
Tickets are $22 in advance, $24 on Saturday night and Sunday matinees, $24 “at the door” charge
Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.