Let me start off by giving props to the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. It is a spectacular venue for music, live performances, and more, and if you live in Vienna or visit sometime in the near future, you should definitely check it out and give your support! It is certainly a staple of my summer 🙂
Also, major props to the cast, crew, and creative team behind Beauty and the Beast! Adapting and performing any show for Broadway is a difficult task that requires a lot of talent and creativity. No matter what is said in this review, I assure you that I mean no disrespect to the people who worked their hardest to make this show what it is. It was fun to watch, and looked like fun to put on.
Without these two groups, I could not have watched last night’s show. 🙂
On and off-Broadway, I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Les Miserables, If/Then, and snippets of many assorted ones at my high school (the night of a show, they’d do little previews all day in the theatre. If you were lucky enough, your teacher was nice and let you go watch them). I’ve only been in one musical myself, in Bye Bye Birdie in middle school, and that was just as an adult chorus member/concerned parent.
Suffice it to say, you probably won’t see many reviews like this one from me, but media is media, and the stage is a unique arena of entertainment that a lot of people overlook. It requires more volume and more expression, as the actors try to reach the back row and be heard and understood by everyone.
While I may compare this to the movie here and there, rest assured that I understand the limits of the different mediums. Changes must be made, and the movie and show are not one and the same, nor should they be regarded as such.
With that said…
What I liked:
The music was very good. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the new songs added in, particularly “If I Can’t Love Her.” Personally, I felt that “Human Again” was much more useful to the musical than it was in the movie. Definitely not as redundant.
I know that “Be Our Guest” is supposed to be the big show stopper (it was the top contender for my favorite in the film), and there are a couple other particularly big numbers to go up against it, but the song that captured my heart and attention was “Gaston.” The dancing, the energy, the people clinking their beers and cheering, and the outstanding performances of both Gaston and LeFou were just so enthralling. I could probably recommend the show on that song alone.
But come on. It’s Gaston. No one says no to Gaston.
The sets were very colorful, sometimes bordering on sugar high levels. But it could also become dark and foreboding in the blink of an eye; the fairytale screen and border around the stage could be transformed for scenes in the creepy forest very easily, with just the right lighting. The props and set pieces, particularly Maurice’s bike/wood-choppy thingamajig were all very nice, and the actors and stage hands moved them pretty fluidly. The first half of the show took place at sunset, so I especially applaud the lighting guys for still making that part of the show work well despite conditions and limitations.
The stand-out actors and actresses for me were those for Belle (Hilary Maiberger), Gaston (Tim Rogan), LeFou (Jordan Aragon), and Mrs. Potts (Kristin Stewart….no, thankfully not that Kristen Stewart). All of them felt like their movie counterparts, although Belle had a lot more spunky attitude. She was still patient, but sometimes more sarcastic than I would have imagined Belle being, but surprisingly, I thought it worked. Every girl needs attitude 🙂
I also liked a couple of the story changes from the movie. Maurice’s brief reminiscing about Belle’s mother was cute, and the Beast trying to “act like a gentleman” and bring Belle dinner after he told her she couldn’t eat without him was a nice little touch. Despite being delightfully creeped out by the cold, serious, and menacing Monsieur D’Arque in the original film, I was intrigued by his portrayal in this production as much more silly, possibly mad himself. His laugh reminded me of the hyenas from The Lion King, and I chuckled at his introduction, where he analyzed both Gaston and LeFou as crazies themselves, before they het the chance to tell him what they really called him for.
Beast listening to Belle read to him, and talking about how they both feel like outcasts that no one gives a chance to, was brilliant. It was a really powerful moment that made clear exactly how they were bonding, and what they were beginning to feel for each other. It was them realizing how alike they were, and how much they needed each other, not just in a romantic way.
One last big thing that stuck out to me: the changes to the spell and the time limit. Instead of saying, “it would bloom until his twenty-first year,” the narrator said, “it would bloom for many years.” That nicely hand-waved away the rather screwed up element that Beast was about 10-ish years old when the Enchantress cursed him. Because yeah, kids can be bratty and selfish. Not sure that’s a good enough reason to curse someone.
The servants admitted to themselves that they were cursed because they let the prince become the way that he was, which was a nice couple of lines. I really liked that as time passed and the servants became more one-note and despairing, that they would grow more like actual objects before eventually turning into to un-enchanted ones. That was great.
Cogsworth was okay. Decently done, and funny from time to time. Not as dry as the original, I think, but it was fine.
Some lines ripped straight from the movie were still pretty funny. Definitely delivered with different speeds and inflections, as you would expect, there were only a few misses.
And one last random thing: for some reason, I thought Maurice looked like Mr. Miyagi. I have no clue why; I just looked at a picture of him in the program before the show started, and thought that. He was still the cute and bumbling inventor character, but even more silly and benign than before.
What I didn’t like so much:
Most of what bothered me, you can boil down to the humor. And no, I’m not dissing LeFou. He was great.
It was a lot of slapstick (I think I described it to my friend as Beauty and the Beast meets Vaudeville during the intermission), and pointless sexuality and innuendo.
There is nothing wrong with a little of the former, but it was very overplayed and ham-fisted. The latter, which also would have been great in small doses, was very much the same. Other than the brief Lumiere and Babette (feather duster lady) scene they tweaked from the movie (which was already pretty risqué, now made more overt, I think), a lot of it seemed like Lumiere, Babette, and Madame de la Grande Bouche (wardrobe lady) pelvic-thrusting, spazzing, and slurring their words, sometimes right out of nowhere. A lot of silly, pointless insinuation for cheap laughs. It all seemed so incredibly deliberate and unnatural.
I didn’t find those characters all that funny, but the rest of the audience and their kids seemed to. So what do I know?
I understood making Beast a bit more childish, but it sucked the fear of his character, for both the audience and the other characters, right out of the room. I didn’t buy it at all, not even when he got violent towards Belle.
Can we talk about this for a minute? Because my first post ever was a defense of the movie.
I hated that he actually put his hands on Belle, although, admittedly, he did it once when she met him in the movie. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that ( I forgot to in the aforementioned rant), but I am loathe to speak of it anyway. After all, in the film, he was grabbing what he thought was an intruder. Here, he grabbed her clearly just to intimidate her.
I don’t like that instead of flipping tables and things, like a kid throwing a temper tantrum, he actually hits her. Scratch that. I hated it. Hate hate hate hate hate. Even if he did try to quickly apologize afterward.
You want to tell me Beast is abusive? I believe it! In trying to close up plot holes, discrepancies, and messed-up stuff from the original movie, the musical just made more. Maybe even some worse ones. If nothing else, it muddled the character.
But yeah…moving on…
Overall, Belle was a much stronger character, which cancels out the above stuff, I guess. But the Beast was much weaker; he had a higher voice (though beautiful when he sang), and a roar that never shook the crowd with its loudness and ferocity. He roared because he was the Beast, and for no other reason. That’s what beasts do.
So I didn’t buy her or the servants’ fear of the Beast. At all.
He was still a decently sympathetic character, as he would get nervous, childish, angry, excited, etc. Some of it was played for laughs, though, which, again, wrong! Don’t do that! Subtle moments can still happen, even on stage, and not everything had to be made into a joke!
All we really needed was LeFou, and a little of Lumiere, being the comic relief, and then more subtle jokes, like the Beast doing something unintentionally funny. Or Belle just being awesome. It’s a shame, too, because one of the most powerful and visually stunning scenes from the movie, the “Beauty and the Beast” song, had a lot of awe and magic sucked out of it by Beast being too purposefully derpy and goofy.
Also, the Enchantress was hilarious. What was with the big, willowy puppet that towered over the prince in the beginning? Even behind the screen, it looked ridiculous.
I don’t think I was supposed to laugh at it, but I’m not quite sure.
I enjoyed watching the show, but this is probably my least favorite of the musicals I’ve seen live.
Again, no disrespect meant to the people who put it together, but the overabundance of low-brow humor was a giant boat anchor that weighed down an otherwise energetic, enchanting production. The original movie was plenty dark and serious at times, even as an animated fairytale. This musical tries to do too many things: aiming for that same tone, while still trying to be light and colorful and “der-her-her funny,” sometimes at the expense of the characters and story. The Little Mermaid: The Musical still had the tone of the movie it was based on (and plenty of dignity and charm). Even if the climax was kind of lame…
Close, Disney, but no cigar.
I still recommend it though, because it was fun, and it’ll please kids a lot. Adults too, though some less than others.
It’s still a tale as old as time…it just might get a little old at times.
*Hey, guess what? I still don’t own any of the content! Not the pics, not the videos, not the character, nothing! Support the official sources and releases