In a world filled with ninnies, a masochist, a fop, morphing humans and a hideous beast, Belle is the voice of reason in the Broadway rendition of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The touring production is based on the 1992 Disney movie that was the first full-length animated film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
The play, which has come to Belk Theater on the Broadway Lights tour, has a “once upon a time” opening, in which a prince refused shelter to an ugly crone. Ah, foolish prince! She really is an enchantress who casts a spell, turning the prince into a beast and his staff into half-animate objects. To break the spell, the beast must love someone who loves him back, before the last petal of the rose left by the enchantress falls.
Meanwhile Belle (Brooke Quintana) is the loveliest woman in a little French village, where she loses herself in literature as the townsfolk smirk. She and her father are odd ducks in this provincial hamlet.
The town’s most desired bachelor is Gaston, a gorgeous oaf with all the bad qualities of a sexist-egotist. He wants Belle because he doesn’t have her. Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek’s formidable voice is as dominant as his physique, and silly girls swoon during his ode to himself in “Me.” (Alan Menken won an Oscar for the score in the Disney movie and shared one with Howard Ashman for Best Song in “Beauty and The Beast.” Tim Rice composed additional lyrics for the stage production.)
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When Belle’s father gets lost in the woods, he is imprisoned by the Beast. When Belle finds him, she offers herself as a trade, which gives the Beast and his bevy of servants a rare glimmer of hope that they might return to their original states.
Disney’s rendition is embellished with stock devices to amuse children and adults. Belle is wise and beautiful and has princess potential. Gaston is arrogant and beautiful and has evil potential. Gaston’s sidekick Lefou (Matt DaSilva) provides comic relief. (One is tall and handsome, the other small with bad teeth.)
Stanley A. Meyer’s scenic design is whimsical and dark, full of curling railings and candelabras and swirling vines rich with flowering blooms. As the Beast, Sam Hartley crouches and hunches and snarls. His lightfooted leaps enhance his primal essence. His bluster and innate confusion enhance the audience’s delight, as he transforms into a man with emotions.
Two big productions capture the crowd. “Gaston” is a rousing dance number with clinking beer mugs and revealing lyrics: “No one says ‘no’ to Gaston!” is sung cheerfully, belying its violent undertone. “Be Our Guest” goes over the top with dancing plates and flatware; it could only make sense (and it doesn’t, really) within the confines of a magic castle. The candelabra Lumiere (Ryan N. Phillips) is a hyperactive crowd-pleaser.
Besides the big dance numbers, the play is most successful when Belle elicits the Beast’s humanity. Because she is so pragmatic, her thaw toward the Beast feels real. The fight choreography is brief and effective. The wolf puppets are as terrifying as puppets can be.
We have to ignore that, while falling in love, Belle disregards that she is the Beast’s prisoner, and that her father has been taken away from her. Also disturbing is the teacup head on a plate, which is what has become of Mrs. Potts’ son Chip as he becomes less human.
Be sure to glance through the lobby at the princess outfits sported by young audience members. They may be missing the point about the unimportance of appearances, but they are delightful all the same.
“Beauty and The Beast”
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 12:30 and 6 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.
Running Time: 150 minutes.
Details: (704) 372-1000, http://www.blumenthalarts.org/events/detail/beauty-and-the-beast