Orange County Performing Arts Center.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was a pleasant but undistinguished rendition of the classic Disney musical. It provided a nice evening's entertainment, yet it could have been so much more. Rather than being completely absorbed by the show, half of me was enjoying the familiar story and tunes, while on the other hand I was mentally critiquing the musical as it unfolded.
The production was noticeably done "on the cheap," starting with a tinny orchestra of just 11 instruments. (By contrast, the recent production of SOUTH PACIFIC which played in the same venue had an orchestra two and a half times as big!) The single violin in the pit was simply inadequate, end of story.
The sound wasn't top-notch; for instance, the narrator's voice at the opening of the show was slightly muffled. Wigs and makeup were a bit too obvious, particularly for Belle's father. Nor was I impressed with the production design; the sets were visually loud and the quality was about on the level of civic light opera rental sets.
Liz Shivener stars in this production as Belle, with Justin Glaser as the Beast and understudy Steve Czarnecki as Gaston. Their voices were adequate but lacked the power to thrill. For instance, "Belle" is one of the all-time great openings of a Disney story, and it's one of my very favorite Disney songs. Belle's voice should have been strongly leading the chorus and the song should have built to a thrilling conclusion, but the number was more perfunctory, with Shivener's voice a bit too muted.
Shivener's voice seemed to warm up by the second act and was much stronger singing "Something There," although she was a bit wobbly holding big closing notes near the show's conclusion. Shivener looks the part and her performance was reasonably good, but on the other hand Glaser's Beast, while amusing at times, didn't connect with me emotionally.
The supporting cast was solid, particularly Sabina Petra as Mrs. Potts. One of the show's highlights was Mrs. Potts, Lumiere (Merritt David Janes), and Cogsworth (Keith Kirkwood) leading "Be Our Guest," complete with confetti raining down on the audience at the end. This number provided a glimpse of the show's potential, although better production values could have elevated it further. The Beast's transformation near the end was handled well, a real "How did they do that?" magical moment. The show could have used more such moments.
I waited to read any reviews until writing the comments above. The thoughts of the Orange County Register reviewer are uncannily similar to mine, down to commenting on Shivener that "her singing voice isn't as tonally certain and assertive as it could be, though it improved in the second act." Absolutely correct, as is the rest of the review, titled "Beauty and the Beast Cuts Some Corners in Costa Mesa."
For another point of view, here's a much more positive take on the production.
The show heads next to Tucson, El Paso, Colorado Springs, and many other cities.
I'm going to try to listen to the Broadway cast recording soon and get a sense of what that production was like; leading lady Susan Egan received excellent reviews -- and incidentally, she's originally from this area.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a musical with great "bones" which -- done right -- could be an elegant and moving show. This touring company, however, is unfortunately not that production.
A side note: I believe in exposing children to cultural events from an early age and have taken all my children to the theater, museums, and concerts from the time they were young. However, if a child is so small that he can't see the stage over the heads of the audience in front of him, is unable to be still and quiet for the length of a two-act musical, or cannot stay up late without having a meltdown, it would be a great kindness to other theater patrons if the child is left at home. Fortunately the family in front of us gave up and left at intermission. Unfortunately the parents of a toddler behind us didn't do the same, resulting in the child wailing and having to be removed from the theater just before the title song.
Related posts: Tonight's Theater: The Phantom of the Opera; Tonight's Theater: My Fair Lady; Tonight's Theater: South Pacific (October 14, 2010); Tonight's Theater: South Pacific (October 22, 2010).