Saying the current touring production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast is a stripped-down version of its long-running Broadway predecessor is a bit like saying Ke$ha is a stripped-down version of Madonna. It's true, of course. The knockoff becomes a bit messier, a bit less memorable, but the ambitions are the same: Take imagery everyone already knows, repackage it for mass consumption by smoothing out the edges and adding flashy distractions, collect paycheck.
Plenty of people love Disney's reconstituted fairy tale, both on-screen, animated, and onstage with live actors who behave as though they were animated. I have an ongoing love affair with Jean Cocteau's film, and much prefer its disembodied arm-sconces and somnambulistic haze to the cartoon Lumiere (played here by Michael Haller), a randy French butler-turned-candelabra, or the power ballads of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice, singable and innocuous though they may be. And somehow Chip (Noah Jones), a young boy's talking head costumed as a teacup and fixed atop a table like one of those monkeys whose brains get eaten by tourists, seems far creepier to me than the Beast himself.
So, different strokes. Beauty and the Beast may not resonate, but it will grab your attention and hang on until every piece of flatware pirouettes through the rousing "Be Our Guest," the anger issues of Beast (Dane Agostinis) disappear along with his hirsute bulk, and the Stockholm syndrome of Belle (Emily Behny) is complete. Behny makes all the crassness and kitsch go down a little easier, and there's plenty: the slapstick abuse of evil Gaston (Matt Farcher) toward his sidekick, Lefou (Jimmy Larkin); the scenery-pushing gargoyles stolen directly from Cocteau; Stanley Meyer's Latvian-meets-Gothic-meets-Black Forest set design. She brings a whole lot more of what passes for subtlety than anyone else (excepting Julia Louise Hosack's Mrs. Potts, who, despite her ridiculous spout-arm, conveys a surprising — here, anyway — combination of resignation and sadness). Behny's crisp, clear vocals on "Home" and "A Change in Me" even manage to approximate something like emotion.
Though reuniting much of Beauty and the Beast's production team, including director Rob Roth, whom I'll hold responsible for the actors' animatronic performances, choreographer Matt West — whose beer hall stein-clanking number "Gaston" remains one of the show's genuine joys — and costumer Ann Hould-Ward, who won the show's sole Tony Award, this tour lacks some of that original fire. This is true both literally, since Lumiere's hands no longer function as flamethrowers, instead cupping the kind of little fabric flames you see on cauldrons at Halloween Adventure, and figuratively, in Agostinis' lackluster Beast.
You get a few more songs onstage and louder fanfare, and no doubt some parents see a real value in showing their daughters a real, live dancing, singing Disney princess. But whether you watch it at home or see it at the Academy, either way, what you end up with is pretty two-dimensional.