Beauty marks on the “Beast”

The Disney classic is a little too grown-up for its own good

Jacob Coakley

“Bat Days” is a yearly weekend when hundreds of goths dressed in their best black finery descend en masse on Disneyland. That these misfits, depressives and angsty creatives still make a pilgrimage to the center of all things wholesome in entertainment—well, there’s clearly a love of old-fashioned Disney lurking in every one of our alternative, elitist-artist veins. So while a production of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Philip Shelburne for Super Summer Theatre, may be geared toward families, there should still be room in the production to use some creative staging and performances to bring out something edgier, a little more Cocteau than just straight Disney, right?

The Disney story is simple: Belle (Kari Curletto), an unconventionally pretty (this means “brunette,” and be grateful they didn’t also give her glasses), smart and slightly odd girl lives in a provincial town where people make fun of her intellectual life. Uber-jock Gaston (Erik Ball) thinks she should give up any notions of furthering herself and marry him (not that this will stop him from dallying with the town cocktail waitresses). Her father, while off trying to impress someone with his new invention at a trade show, stumbles upon an enchanted castle, inhabited by ensorcelled servants and one very large, very ugly Beast (played by Al Sevyn Mindoro—apparently neither Adelson nor Wynn could make rehearsals). Belle and the Beast meet cute when she rescues her father from the Beast’s dungeon, and from there it’s all a bunch of plot until they fall in love and Belle breaks the spell.

For the audience, though, it’s of utmost importance that the spell isn’t broken. Actors dancing and singing while dressed like candelabras, clocks, teapots and whatnot desperately need our suspended disbelief, and all too often the forces of this show conspire against that leap into fantasy.

The cast is a little uneven. Evan Litt Sr. as Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick, makes the most of a plum part and steals just about every scene he’s in with his ridiculous character. Yes, it’s easy to go over the top with Lefou, but to Litt’s credit he’s not slavishly imitating the voice work from the animated musical, but creating what feels like a genuine character. Ball’s work as Gaston is also quite good, but falters in several moments with a certain amount of winking attitude and a bit of overplayed bawdy humor. I never thought I’d be one to say that a Disney musical needed to be made less adult, but in this case highlighting the double entendres doesn’t make them funny for the adults in the audience—it just makes them creepy. Curletto has a solid voice for Belle, and shines in some scenes (her pas-de-don’t during Gaston’s proposal of marriage is very well done), but she frequently falls into the habit of playing “princess” as opposed to solid action. Mindoro, though, simply doesn’t have the voice for the Beast. For the stage musical the Beast’s role has been expanded from the movie, with two original songs: “How Long Must This Go On?” and “If I Can’t Love Her.” “If I Can’t Love Her” in particular is a strong ballad, but Mindoro can’t stay on pitch.

None of the actors is helped by the subpar mic system. Whether it’s the mixer who was late pulling up the levels of performers’ mics, failures of the wireless mics themselves or miswired gear that led to a repeating hum at certain points whenever the snow, fog or bubble machines were turned on, these issues need to be worked out.

The main set-piece is an ambitious castle interior, which rotates, lazy-Susan-like, to various locales within the castle. I would like to have seen more polish with it, but it shines when it has the right touches—a magnificent chair for the Beast and some creepy gargoyles in the dungeons, which definitely bring a touch of Cocteau to the proceedings. Not all of the scenes using movement and puppetry to advance the story work as well, and a few are genuinely awkward. The windy weather didn’t cooperate with the fog and snow special effects, which seem superfluous anyway—I don’t think the bubble machines would have added anything useful to the show without the wind, and two snow machines don’t seem like enough to truly fill the stage with the desired storm effect.

The costumes are spot-on, which is saying a lot. I’m not sure if some of the pieces and gowns were rented for this production, but if not costume designer Frederic Pineau could make a fortune renting his costumes (constructed by Michael Rennie and Randy Hendrickson) to other productions. Stephanie Baker’s choreography is witty and sharp in some of the smaller numbers, but becomes bogged down in the larger choral numbers.

You need to know that it’s a long show. The running time is more than two hours, and there’s no intermission. Some of the kids around me were clearly not up for the whole thing—whether you are depends largely on your devotion to Disney. While it has some of the right touches, this production isn’t a fairy tale brought to life.

The bottom line: **1/2


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