Disney fans of all ages will delight in the current touring production of “Beauty and the Beast” for the following reasons:
• Its lighthearted retelling of a beloved, romantic fairy tale and animated smash.
• Its visual feast of regalia and enchantment, including elaborate sets, props and costumes.
• Its multi-award-winning musical score composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.
• And the fact that, in addition to obtaining international success, its original production, which ran from 1994 to 2007, still holds the status of eighth-longest-running show in Broadway history.
While musical director/conductor Carolyn Violi effectively captures Menken’s masterful overture and lively melody, Tony Award-winning costume designer Ann Hould-Ward presents an impeccable array of mid- to late-18-th century French haute couture comprising frou-frou tassels, pastel ostrich plumes and intricate embroidery. Their efforts are matched by Stanley A. Meyer’s fanciful sets, a few optical illusions by Jim Steinmeyer, choreography by Matt West and puppet design by Basil Twist.
Youthful and wide-eyed, Emily Behny fully embodies the character of Belle and the “total package” qualities customary of any Disney princess. In addition to looks, smarts and kindheartedness, she possesses entrancing vocal ability, most apparent in her solo number, “A Change in Me.”
Likewise, her burly, rough-around-the-edges counterpart, Dane Agostinis (the Beast), expertly projects heartfelt emotions while buried in copious layers of fur and stage makeup. He presents operatic robustness, tenderness and vulnerability in his delivery of “If I Can’t Love Her,” and releases an amusing succession of temper tantrums while attempting to court Belle.
Performances by supporting cast members are of superior quality. Standouts of Thursday night’s performance were Logan Denninghoff and Andrew Kruep – Denninghoff as Gaston, the villainous, arrogant, macho man; and Kruep as his sidekick buffoon, Lefou. Their riotous rendition of “Gaston” is complemented by an ensemble of tavern patrons rhythmically clanging tin steins together. The pièce de résistance of the show by far is the “Be Our Guest” cabaret number. It can best be described as an ooh la la-ing dazzlefest of brilliant colors, can-canning golden flatware, topped off with an enchanted floor rug that somersaults.
In comparison to Disney’s other Broadway hit, “The Lion King,” the show can appear a tad on the gimmicky side through its use of needless cartoony sound effects and broad humor. But its ability to bring the Disney animated characters to life and reverberation of a familiar soundtrack make it worthwhile.