Thursday, April 5, 2012

Theatre review: "Beauty and The Beast"-Touring production at Heinz Hall

It’s called Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I’m sure you know that that is due to the fact that it’s a live theatre re-working of the cartoon feature. On Broadway it was a major box office success; the show ran 13 years.

It’s easy to see what makes this so appealing. Even this touring, non-Equity version looks great. Wondrous sets. Clever stagecraft from director Rob Roth. Some jolly looking and sounding production numbers. A few, excellent, large-scale puppets. And impressive costumes. Add to that flawless singing and dancing.

The songs? If you haven’t heard them yet, don’t expect much magic. Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice turned in something serviceable with only a couple of numbers worth re-hearing: the title and waltz-like “To Be Human Again.” Although “Be Our Guest” has fairly lively charm, but it mainly comes from the spectacular production number incorporating it.

As for the performances of the lead roles, everyone looks and sounds good. But, since this is cartoon-derived, it could be better if they did more than resemble outlines. Dane Agostinis gets closest to creating a character with real personality. As The Beast he beautifully conveys his ultimate vulnerability. Alas, though, this becomes undercut in some of his later scenes where he plays teen-age-like shtick. That may get some laughs, but it diminishes the integrity of the role. He sings superbly as does Logan Denninghoff as Belle’s self-impressed, would-be suitor Gaston.

Sure the story seems simple-minded. Why not? It’s derived from a fairy tale. It’s got kid appeal. Within the spectacle too a couple of minor messages lie for those parents and teachers eager to pass them on. i.e Love conquers ugliness. i.e #2 Being different is OK. #3 Women can be smart and strong. Duh.

Slick? Predictable? Sure. But it looks good. Who expects circus cotton candy to be nourishing?

Beauty and The Beast continues through the afternoon of Sunday April 8th at Heinz Hall, downtown. 412/392-4900.

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