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Review: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast, Disney and NETworks tour, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: Beauty and the Beast

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Posted: November 29, 2013

 

 

 

Does it even matter what I say about the return of NETworks' touring production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast? Little girls will still show up in Belle costumes and will look adorable, all the while quietly absorbing the message that, through the power of love, they can totally change that guy with the nasty temper. Adults will cheer its "Be Our Guest" cutlery kickline, and wake up the next morning with its chorus still ringing through their skulls, trapped like Belle, while somewhere out there, a better, more innovative family musical withers and dies for lack of funding.

With a 13-year Broadway stint and more than 35 million already served (to say nothing of the movie tickets, videos, DVD and, downloads purchased since the film's 1991 debut), Beauty and the Beast certainly has its fans. This production uses all the show's Alan Menken/Howard Ashman/Tim Rice original music and Linda Woolverton's uninspired filler of a script. It also reunites the show's original crew, from director Rob Roth to choreographer Matt West, costumer Ann Hould-Ward, lighting designer Natasha Katz - who, in reworking her design for the tour, decided muddy means moody - and set designer Stanley Meyer. And Meyer's designs may well be the production's true stars.

With a huge tangle of acanthus framing the stage, and French provincial folk art throughout, Beauty and the Beast, at the very least, offers copious visual distractions. And yet, this production remains such a joyless and cynical affair. Belle, unlike every other woman in town, picks up a book and spurns villain Gaston. Gaston, during the tavern stomper "Gaston," fawned over and felt up by all those illiterate hussies, gay-bashes his hanger-on Lefou for laughs. Each plot point arrives via sledgehammer, with delivery as mechanical as a Disney World animatronic attraction. The real prisoner here isn't Belle, but rather the stone sentries cribbed from Jean Cocteau's gorgeous, haunting, blissfully quiet film La Belle et La Bete.

This time around, the production's supporting cast truly supports its principals. Hilary Maiberger's Belle, while well-tuned in song, muffles Woolverton's dialogue (which may be for the best), but Stephanie Moskal's operatic diva Babette adds comic relief and vocal chops. Meanwhile, Kristin Stewart's Mrs. Potts allows for understated emotion, some actual beauty, among director Roth's beastly demand for frenzied, notice-me performances.


Through Sunday at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets.

Tickets: $20-$115.50

Information: 215-731-3333 or kimmelcenter.org

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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