Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Beauty and the Beast, PlayhouseSquare

(Hilary Maiberger as Belle and Darick Pead as Beast)

No matter how you do Beauty and the Beast, you’re bound to attract an audience. Especially those height-challenged folks (kids, to you) who are treated to this Disney theatrical production.

And the youngsters won’t be disappointed by this touring show, even though they may squirm a bit as it lumbers along for almost three hours, with intermission.

Adults, however, could find entrancement hard to come by in a production directed with children’s theater broadness by Rob Roth. Indeed, there’s so much mugging going on around him that Darick Pead in his Beast costume seems positively understated.

Fortunately, he and Hilary Maiberger as Belle have ideal voices for these fine songs, and Pead finds some pathos in the Beast who is desperate to find a true love before his hirsute and be-fanged fate is sealed.

Maiberger is less successful in conjuring an interesting personality to go with her sterling pipes. She never quite captures the feisty, eccentric spirit of this girl who is considered a book-reading oddball in her little town.

In the hugely comical role of Gaston, Jeff Brooks has guns that won’t stop and a powerful voice. But he never fully dominates the stage as Gaston should, leaving a hole at the center of the feud that leads to the final confrontation with Beast.

As for the mansion’s servants who are all on their way to becoming household furnishings under the enchantress’s spell, it’s a mixed and mostly ungratifying bunch. Hassan Nazari-Robati exudes plenty of energy as Lumiere, but he lacks variety in his various candle lighting moments, relying on the same grins no matter what the situation.

Mrs. Potts, as portrayed by Erin Edelle, doesn’t offer the ample maternal quality that makes this character memorable, and Edelle’s rendition of the title song is thin and unaffecting. Jessica Lorion tries to have fun with the maid Babette but comes up short, as does an over-the-top Shani Hadjian as Madame de la Grande Bouche. 

Instead of playing characters, these actors all seem to be diving for the closest and easiest laugh. And that begins to wear out one’s patience.

As for the set design by Stanley A Meyer, it seems equally overdone, sporting lots of fairy tale book foliage and super-cutesy little cottages. This approach proves distancing, never allowing the audience to fully buy into the story itself.

Even so, much of the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman/Rim Rice music shines through, giving kids and oldsters a familiar rush. With this show, that’s always the beauty part.

Beauty and the Beast
Through November 18 at the palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1518 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000

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