“Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…”
You know how it goes. And yet, no matter how many times you have watched the story of “Beauty and the Beast,” it never seems to get old. This timeless tale has been entertaining audiences for 25 years now, so in honor of this special anniversary, it seems like the perfect opportunity to revisit Belle and the Beast.
And if you make your way down to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts this weekend, you can catch the limited engagement presentation of “Beauty and the Beast” live on stage.
Originally based on the 1740 French novel of the same name by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, “Beauty and the Beast” is a direct adaptation of the 1991 Disney film, which won two Academy Awards and was the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture. The original Broadway production opened just three years after the film release, in April of 1994, and was nominated for nine Tony Awards.
Feeling like an outsider in her own town, Belle (Brooke Quintana) longs for something more out of life. Her only suitor in town is the brutish Gaston (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek), who does not interest her at all. Belle’s life turns upside down when her father, Maurice (Thomas Mothershed), gets taken prisoner by the Beast (Sam Hartley). In a selfless act, Belle trades her life for her father’s to set him free.
Little does Belle know that the Beast is actually a prince in disguise who needs to learn how to love and be loved by the time the final petal falls off his enchanted rose. Until the love spell is broken, the prince and all of his servants have been put under a spell to live as cursed objects. Belle seems like the one who can break the spell, but will the two learn to fall in love with each other in time?
Like any Disney-to-Broadway adaptation, this production benefits from enhancements. While the story happens almost identical to how you remember it, the 92-minute film becomes two and a half hours on stage, so there are several additions to the storyline. The expansion of the characters Babette the feather duster (Melissa Jones) and Madame de la Grande Bouche the wardrobe (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) allow for favorite characters to have more of a storyline. Along with those character developments, there are more plot developments, like learning that as the castle continues to run out of time to break the spell, the inhabitants are becoming more inanimate, and will eventually be just an object.
Added songs will entice fans of the movie looking for something new. With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, these tunes contribute more magic to the storyline. While some of these songs would have slowed the pace in the 92-minute film, they become nice fillers in the stage show. Both “Home” and “If I Can’t Love Her,” sang by Belle and the Beast, respectively, provide deeper emotional understanding to the sorrows of both characters, while Gaston’s “Me” perfectly describes his slimy and chauvinistic ways.
Lighting, scenic and costume designs by Tony nominee Natasha Katz, Stanley A. Meyer and Tony winner Ann Hould-Ward, respectively, really bring the fairytale aspect to life. Though spotlights did go out a few times on opening night, the lighting during “Be Our Guest” and the final transformation stole the show and made the few lighting issues easy to forgive. The multi-layered sets add depth to the stage and the story and, while we never see a full castle, you can feel the intensity of the large building. And, there’s nothing like hearing the audience cheer in approval as Belle first enters the stage in her beautiful golden dress.
However, the downfall of the show is the sound, designed by John Petrafesa, Jr. Many times the actors’ microphones would cut out, and the audience would miss part of their lines. There are also moments when the sound effects, especially the Beast’s roar, are significantly louder than any of the characters, leading to an imbalance. While the Beast is supposed to be dark and menacing at first, the fact that his voice is so much softer than his roar makes it slightly awkward.
Quintana shines as Belle. She makes the audience laugh, cry and cheer for her as she delves deep into her character’s emotional intensities—and her solos are full of passion. While both Hartley and Smith-Kotlarek are formidable as Beast and Gaston, it feels like something is missing from both of their performances. While Hartley does well on his solos and ends the first act beautifully with “If I Can’t Love Her,” he plays the character more like the teenage boy he was when he was cursed. This gives the Beast more human qualities and makes him less of a monster, which is great in the second act but feels out of place in Act One. Smith-Kotlarek has a perfectly deep Gaston voice but is missing some of the muscle. And, in “Gaston,” when he sings that every last inch is covered in hair, he awkwardly opens his shirt to a nicely waxed chest.
But the true standouts are the main servants: Lumiere (Ryan N. Phillips), Cogsworth (Samuel Shurtleff) and Mrs. Potts (Stephanie Gray). Phillips and Shurtleff nail their comedic timing and prove to be just as important on stage as on film. Phillips carries “Be Our Guest” with charisma and ease and is devilishly delightful. And Gray makes the tears flow while providing vocals to “Beauty and the Beast” as Belle and the Beast dance center stage.
Director Rob Roth provides a spectacular show that will dazzle audiences. While there are some obvious flaws, the story itself and the nostalgia it creates for its adult audience members make the flaws irrelevant. This show is perfect for families of all ages, and no one will leave disappointed. However, if you are looking for the perfect adaption of this story, it is probably best to stick to the 1991 animated flick.
“Beauty and the Beast” runs now through Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at just $35 for a fun family experience. Call 954/462-0222 or visit browardcenter.org.