/ The Dallas Guide
Dallas — By Tui Cameron on July 14, 2010 at 4:57 pm
Filed under: featuredarticle, musical theater, review

Review: Beauty and the Beast in Dallas

Beauty (Liz Shivener) hugs the Beast (Justin Glaser)

Beauty (Liz Shivener) hugs the Beast (Justin Glaser)

There was no shortage of tiara-adorned princesses wearing their frilly best in attendance at the musical version of  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on its opening night in Dallas. While the median age was considerably younger than your usual opera crowd (I caught a whiff of a princess whose diaper needed changing during the second act) it was an exuberant and appreciative crowd. The only empty seats I saw were those left vacant by viewers sitting in their parent’s lap.

For those who have forgotten the premise for this classic story, the Beast was once a mean, hard-hearted prince. As punishment, he is transformed into a hideous creature. The only way to break this spell and return to human form is for the Beast to genuinely fall in love with another, and to earn their love in return. This being a fairy tale, you can imagine the ultimate outcome once he meets a beautiful girl named Belle.

I spied several 30-something princesses in the audience who surely saw the original animated film back in the 90’s. While it is hard to transfer the cartoon version directly to the stage, this production has done a good job. There’s no footstool-pooch this time around, but all the other enchanted objects remain.

Gaston (Nathaniel Hackmann) wows the townspeople.

Gaston (Nathaniel Hackmann) wows the townspeople.

Storywise, Linda Woolverton’s adaptation does a better job of explaining a plot hole in the Disney film. We all know that the prince has been turned into a beast because he is heartless and unloving, but why on earth is the entire staff of his castle slowly turning into household objects? In this version, we learn the reason for their punishment. By not teaching him to behave, they are all partly responsible for the prince’s behavior, so the spell effects them, too. Woolverton’s book also shows the Beast reaching out to Belle with kindness sooner in the storyline, by bringing her dinner to her room. These additions give extra dimension to the story.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast features a talented cast. Liz Shivener shines as Belle, the bookish beauty, who manages to be sweet and adorable without seeming too naive. Justin Glaser makes a wonderful Beast, tossing in crowd-pleasing slapstick as his character struggles to become a gentleman. Glaser also brings genuine pathos to his mournful moments; I felt very sorry for his Beast.

Keith Kirkwood plays Cogsworth

Keith Kirkwood plays Cogsworth

Nathaniel Hackmann is a master of comical arrogance as Gaston, and his fabulous strutting stands up to the cartoon rendition. The humorous lyrics have held up, too,  with Gaston having some of the funniest lines of the show (i.e. I use antlers in all of my decorating.)

The person who manages to pack the most animation into his character is Michael Fatica as Lefou, Gaston’s sycophantic sidekick. His gymnastic moves embody as much cartoon playfulness as is humanly possible. Keith Kirkwood makes a wonderfully fussy Cogsworth, and Sabina Petra nailed her version of Mrs. Potts. In fact, Petra’s rendition of the title song, “Beauty and the Beast” is a highlight of the show.

Merritt David Janes, as Lumiere, gave a rowsing version of “Be Our Guest,” which turned out to be the biggest dance ensemble of the show. Like the film, this scene is a standout, and the song is one viewers will find themselves humming later on. After such a grand number, it felt that we should be getting up for intermission, however, the midpoint of the show comes one song later.

I saw plenty of little kids with Beast dolls at intermission. Frankly, who would want a prince doll? by the time he enters the story, we have all fallen in love with the Beast who, despite his 80’s rocker hair and tremendous underbite, is truly endearing.

Merritt David Janes as Lumiere

Merritt David Janes as Lumiere

Beauty and the Beast makes a delightful family outing, and a good introduction to live performance for children. Some parents may assume that this story is too girl-centric for boys; however, I think boys will enjoy it, too. Like the beloved Maurice Sendak book, Where the Wild Things Are, the Beast gives a name to that naughty, ill-mannered part in all of us, those unruly traits we struggle to control and tame.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast runs 2 1/2 hours, with one intermission.  After the show, some little ones were carried out of the concert hall asleep, but others were full of energy,  and – for me – the most magical sight of the evening was seeing these brightly-clad princesses race through the fountain in front of the Winspear Opera House.

What: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
When: Through July 25th, 2010
Where: Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Dallas, TX (map)
Price: $25 – $150
More information: Visit the AT&T Performing Arts Center website.

NOTE: While tickets were provided to me for review purposes, the opinions expressed in this article are wholly my own.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus, courtesy of the AT&T Performing Arts Center

Tags: featuredarticle, musical theater, review


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