Once upon a time, French novelist Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont had a vision of a story of love, friendship and enchantment. Before “Beauty and the Beast” became an instant Disney animated classic in 1991, his story was a 1756 fairy tale that introduced the world to Belle, her doting father, an entitled prince, a Beast, and the power of the heart.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (B&B) tour continues its version of the age-old tale on the Connor Palace stage at Playhouse Square through April 26, 2015. The limited engagement promises magic for children as well as for those young at heart.
The tour is very comparable to the 2012 B&B tour that played Cleveland. The sets, the costumes, the staging and choreography are reminiscent of a tour intact, but this round has a bit of extra sass.
The story begins with a selfish prince refusing to accept an old woman’s gift of a rose in return for shelter. He turns her away only to discover the hideous hag is not an ugly beggar, but a beautiful enchantress. She sees no love in his heart and curses him to take the form of a Beast (Ryan Everett Wood). The spell can only be broken if he can love and be loved in his monstrous form before the last petal on that rose falls. This sequence is done with imaginative puppetry behind a scrim and it sets the stage for all to come.
The stage is then transformed to a storybook-looking town. The set looks like a richly-textured pop-up book full of color, with 2D houses popped out with 3D details. We meet the “Beauty” in the musical number “Belle.” Belle (Jillian Butterfield) is a dreamer with her heart in far off lands. She reads voraciously and wishes to be free of the tiny town.
Campaigning for her affection is Gaston (Cameron Bond), a large-muscled, self-absorbed oaf who will only be happy if he has the prettiest girl in town for a wife. Belle is uninterested in his wooing, which only makes him more determined.
Belle’s love for her father, Maurice (Thomas Mothershed), is loyal and true. She and the quirky inventor are a father and daughter that truly care for and appreciate each other. So when Maurice is lost in the woods, Belle rushes to find him.
Some wonderful puppetry comes back into play when Maurice is attacked by wolves. The wolves are large, scary and well-manipulated by the actors, and it’s no wonder that the character of Maurice ends up at the first place he can find safety – the Beast’s castle.
When Belle finds her father in the castle, the Beast refuses to let Maurice, the trespasser, go. Belle offers herself in his place and her captivity begins. She struggles with her new, dark forever in the song “Home,” beautifully rendered with yearning and inner conflict by Butterfield.
And so the central themes of the show are exposed – giving up one’s life in exchange for the preservation of another, and the challenge of seeing past outside appearances to understand the soul and true form of others.
Helping Belle on the journey to discovering the inner good in the Beast are an array of quirky characters. Lumiere (Patrick Pevehouse) is a mischievous and dashing candlestick. Babette (Melissa Jones) is a flirty and slightly jealous feather duster. Madame de la Grande Bouche (Kelly Teal Goyette) is a larger-than-life, effervescent vanity/dresser. All of these characters are costumed with flair and play their roles with pizzazz.
The characters of Mrs. Potts (Emily Jewell) and Cogsworth (Samuel Shurtleff) are wonderful actors who embody the nuance of the production’s joy and magic. However, despite wonderful acting and great singing voices, the costumes are a bit odd. Cogsworth sprouts a winding mechanism on his back during the show, but its flopping about takes away from the overall structure of the costume. And Mrs. Potts looks more like a glittery onion bulb with a strange, disjointed nub for an arm rather than a charmed tea pot. And we won’t discuss the strange disembodied head that is Chip – it’s a cool effect, but it’s creepy.
Other costume oddities include the “Be Our Guest” knives, which seem a bit more like golden serrated phallic symbols than knives, and the risqué bottom part of the costumes for the dancing girls in the same number. Heart-shaped cutout underwear bottoms? Maybe a bit more coverage for the Disney piece would be a good idea?
Regardless, the production is a well-oiled, finely-tuned machine. The big numbers such as “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again” are well-choreographed and full of life. The actors are highly entertaining, and stand-outs include Lefou (Jordan Weagraff) with his highly acrobatic buffoonery, and Beast’s heart-wrenching presentation of “If I Can’t Love Her.” Puns of note that are particularly entertaining (there are a lot in this show!) include Lumiere’s “You cut me to the wick!” and a comment about Cogsworth being “ticked off.”
Unfortunately, at the time of this review on opening night, the catharsis of the show was ruined by technical difficulties. The huge build up where Gaston is struggling with the Beast that leads into the huge Transformation moment was cut short. Without notice, the stage went black, the house lights went up, and an announcement asked for our patience. When the show went continued seven minutes later, the magic of the Transformation was disappointing, as it was clear that the company had to altered the effect of Beast’s change back into human form. This night, the moment fizzled.
Despite the huge, disappointing glitch, the company finished strong with the Disney happy ending we all know and love. They earned a standing ovation, and the admiration of the crowd for proving that no matter what happens in live theater, the show must go on!
The Cleveland tour run of “Beauty and the Beast” ends with a 7:00pm performance at the Connor Palace on Sunday, April 26. For more information on this production, or other Playhouse Square shows, visit www.playhousesquare.org, or call 216-241-6000.