Beauty and the Beast Musical – review

Let me be clear. I have a 5-year-old daughter who has a “mixed” relationship with princesses, particularly of the Disney variety. She likes the characters (most of them, anyway) and tolerates their presence in her toybox, but—4 times out of 5—she patently refuses to watch the movies. Ariel? She loves the character. Sings the songs. Has the LEGO sets. We also have the Bluray, but it’s still in the shrinkwrap, months after she got it. She won’t watch it.

So it was with some hesitation that I forked over the cash to get tickets to the Beauty and the Beast musical when it came to town this past weekend. Of all the princess movies, Beauty and the Beast is probably her favorite. She’s seen it a few times and enjoys it. She really enjoys the music, and she really enjoys live theater, so I figured this was a gamble worth taking.

We sprung for reserved seats at Wolf Trap rather than lawn tickets, which really is the only way to go for an afternoon show. Even with the best lawn spots, the sun glare just makes the stage too difficult to see. (We made that mistake once before…never again. Couldn’t see a darn thing.) And in the DC sun/humidity, I’ll take a seat in the shade over a blanket in the sun any day.

So. The show. The musical originally ran on Broadway from 1994-1999 and has been touring nationally almost ever since. As an interpretation of the Disney film, it’s very faithful. There are some differences, such as small changes to the plot (in the interest of stage production, I assume) and a few new songs. The new songs are there to “pad out” the show and extend its runtime, but they don’t really add much to the story. Still, they’re harmless enough. Actually, the song “Human Again” was originally written for and cut from the film (and was reinserted to the “special edition” of the film that appears on the Blu-ray). It’s probably the best addition to the musical.

In the production we saw at Wolf Trap, Belle was superbly played by Hilary Maiberger, and Tim Rogan stole the show as Gaston. Both captured the sound and style of the characters/actors from the film. They did little to make the roles their own, but—to be fair—the kids in the audience don’t want to see a reinterpretation. They want to see what’s familiar…and can sing along to. For a performer, I’m sure this is tough, but they gave great performances. Maiberger especially has a fantastic voice and did a great job in the role.

Complaints? A few changes should be made to the staging and production when it’s performed at an outdoor venue or in the afternoon. There’s a semi-transparent curtain/screen that stays down during certain scenes, including the climax when (spoiler alert) the Beast turns into the prince. At night or indoors, I’m sure this adds a nice visual effect. During the day and outside, though, it just made it hard to see what was happening. Zoey got very frustrated by this. “I just want to see clearly!”

Also, the first act seemed interminably long. It got to the point where I thought there might not actually be an intermission. By the last couple songs in Act I, it was obvious that most of the kids in the audience were reaching their patience limits.

It’s also probably best to not even mention the creepy decapitated child’s head that masqueraded as Chip.

Verdict? If you like the Disney film or the music, it’s a no-brainer. The touring show might not be 100% Broadway caliber, but it’s a solid performance with great costumes, scenery, and actors. Definitely recommended!

Schedule for the rest of 2014:
San Antonio, TX: 9/30-10/5
Austin, TX: 10/7-10/12
Seattle, WA: 10/21-10/26
Kennewick, WA: 10/27
Phoenix, AZ: 11/28-11/30
Thousand Oaks, CA: 12/4-12/7
El Paso, TX: 12/9
Midland/Odessa, TX: 12/10
Tucson, AZ: 12/12-12/14
Wichita, KS: 12/16-12/18
Omaha, NE: 12/19-12/21
2015 dates available here.

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