note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
The national touring company of NETworks Presentations LLC’s revised two-act musical, “Beauty and the Beast,” blew into the Boston Opera House last week, roaring like a lion, but departed like a lamb.
Excited children in poufy party dresses squealed and gasped with delight at the vibrant, vivacious, and at times dazzling production, but adults were less awestricken. The right elements of Linda Woolverton’s book that made Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” one of the longest-running, internationally-acclaimed musical plays were there, but the characters are silly caricatures of this beloved 18th century fairytale. And the theme of looking beyond physical beauty, appreciating inner beauty and individual differences, is masked behind the cast’s antics.
This touring production boasts many of the same people who in 1994 created the musical’s smashing success on stage and screen. NETworks kept six of the 1991, Oscar-winning animated movie’s big songs, written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and added a few more, with lyrics by Tim Rice, to which Music Director Carolyn Violi and the 10-piece orchestra produce their own enchantment.
Director Rob Roth happily restored his big hit, adding eye-opening, new touches, including Stan Meyer’s elaborate set, with its storybook gilt edges, lovely, European folk tapestries, classic scrolls and designs that decorated books of yore. Village and castle scenes resemble life-size pages. And Ann Hould Ward’s historically enchanting costumes are charming in this Eastern European Old World, storybook setting. Handsome scrims that lift and lower create a spooky, glow to the deep, dark forest, where ravenous, fast-moving wolf packs wait, howling, poised to attack. However, Natasha Katz’s lighting at times was too dark, blotting out symbolic items, such as the enchanted rose on an upper level that holds the Beast’s life and fate. Fight scenes between the Beast and villain Gaston and also the Beast’s battle with wolves are inky. Perhaps Katz deliberately darkened these scenes for little theatergoers. Choreographer Matt West and Co. liven things up with acrobatic moves and steps, while puppeteer Basil Twist’s large, looming, illuminated enchantress and others, along with Jim Steinmeyer’s illusions, evoked oooohs. The main curtain boasts a changing-hued, bright red rose, that pulsates with John Petrafesa’s sound effects.
Children giggled and clapped as they watched enchanted characters Cogsworth the clock (James May); Lumiere the flirtatious, French candelabra (Michael Haller); Mrs. Potts the teapot (Julia Louise Hosack),and her little teacup son, Chip (two youngsters share the role); Babette the feather duster (Jessica Lorion Haugh of Taunton); and an energetic ensemble of personified, dancing dishes, cutlery, silverware and napkins, who eagerly welcome beautiful Belle (Emily Behny) to the Beast’s castle in a Ziegfeld Follies spectacular number, “Be Our Guest”. Showers of bright-colored streamers cascaded on front-row theatergoers.
Dane Agostinis as the Beast stomps around and roars like an angry monster, but loses his bravado around brave, lovely Belle, whom Emily Behny portrays with a wide-eyed sense of adventure. Agostinis and Behny make sweet music together as she tames him into caring. And the Beast’s metamorphosis and levitation, out of the darkness, from hideous creature to handsome prince, bathed in white rays of light, is a divine revelation.
Although Matt Farcher as egotistical-yet-dim, brawny village chauvinist Gaston sings well in “Me,” and “Gaston”, he lacks bluster and meanness. Instead, Gaston, his somersaulting sidekick, LeFou (Jimmy Larkin of Natick) and adoring entourage of silly females provide comic relief.
Unfortunately, William A. Martin is tepid as Belle’s father, Maurice, whom villagers scorn as a fool, as he creates another invention to enter in the village fair. Even after Maurice is savagely attacked by wolves in the forest, begs for help and entrance to the Beast’s enchanted castle, is imprisoned by the terrifying Beast, and is pursued by villagers bent on committing him to an insane asylum, Maurice is lackluster.
Despite all its glitz, glitter, and overwhelming stage effects, “Beauty and the Beast” lacks one basic element - heart.