Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Disney's Beauty and the Beast - A Review

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was, in a word, fun.

A few other words that could be used to describe the production: amazing costumes, a set design that is nothing short of brilliant, excellent use of lighting, great acting, and lively music.

If you’ve enjoyed the Disney movie, you are familiar with the story and will recognize your favorite scenes and songs (my personal favorite being the song “Gaston” and its respective pub scene). If this musical is your introduction to Disney’s version of the story, well, you will absolutely enjoy your first taste of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Rob Roth, the director who originally brought the production to the stage where it enjoyed a 13-year run, is back for this slightly updated rendition. Featuring seven new songs, along with six classics, the musical makes me want to go back and watch the Disney movie to find the differences (it’s been a while). I recognize the biggies - "Gaston," "Be Our Guest," and "Beauty and the Beast" – and they are all sung beautifully (Belle, played by Emily Behny, has a particularly wonderful and strong voice). But for the life of me, I can’t discern exactly what is new… and that’s a credit to the production. The new material is weaved in so well and stays so true to the feel of the original, it’s difficult to tell what’s been added.

As I stated earlier, the costumes were amazing. Bringing cartoon characters like the candelabra Lumiere, Cogsworth the clock, Mrs. Potts, the goofy Lefou, and of course, the Beast, to life has a lot to do with the actors. But the human actors can take those characters only so far. The costumes do the rest. From Lumiere’s candle hands (constantly popping alive with “flames”) to the Beast’s mane and fangs, costume designer Ann Hould-Ward does an excellent job of maintaining the cartoonish fun, while allowing the actors to become the character.

Most impressive to me, however, is the set design. I was curious as to how the production would be able to pull off creating a “sprawling” town, a spooky woods, and a large, empty castle all contained on the same stage. The solution is brilliant. Using a variety of small, mobile set pieces and an array of curtains, it’s very easy to forget that the whole show takes place on a 103’ x 50’ stage. The choreography is such that it works in perfect harmony with the movement of the pieces. The set design and its usage are nearly as intriguing and entertaining as the musical itself. The result is the illusion of a larger world that is easy to fall into as a viewer.

And, I think, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the mug-clinking dance during Gaston’s pub scene. As I mentioned above, this scene and song is one of my favorite parts of Disney’s story, and the addition of the mug-clinking dance only made it that much more so. Judging from the audience’s reaction, I am not the only one who enjoyed it. It seems so German, so perfect for Wisconsin. Plus, it is just downright cool. Twenty or so people, each armed with two mugs of “beer,” dance through the pub while collectively banging their mugs against those of the pub patrons next to them. Behind the back, under the legs, lying/sitting down, arm and arm. Together, in rhythm, and on cue. Truly, no one can mug-clink like the egotistical, self-centered Gaston.

But there is so much more… life-sized dancing plates, knives, salt and pepper shakers, and, one of my personal favorites, the welcome mat. Horribly painful puns between Cogsworth and Lumiere (I laughed at every one of them!). Streamers launching into the audience. The use of puppetry for the wolves. The live orchestra. The transformation of the Beast into a man. All of it is enjoyable. I could go on and on (I know, I know, too late).

Last night’s audience was made up of dozens of little boys and girls (a number of the girls showing up in their princess outfits), just as many octogenarians, and everyone between. And, as near as I could tell, age didn’t matter… they all enjoyed Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

How could they not? It was just so fun.

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