New ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Drury Lane packs dazzle, but the plot, c’mon
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You know what you’re signing up for with “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”
Strapping men with jawlines like the bumpers on a 1970 Buick Electra. A maiden fair who is as at home in a library as she is twirling in a yellow-cupcake gown. A heinous monster trapped in a curse that turns people into candles and clocks and table linens. A world where happily-ever-after means falling in love with your kidnapper — and, of course, where a bit of crockery is tasked with singing one of the catchiest love songs of all time.
Whether or not the fairy-tale plot (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book by Linda Woolverton) infuriates you, there’s no denying the infectious pizzazz of a well-done chorus line of saucy condiments and flashy cutlery.
Director Alan Souza and choreographer Ron De Jesus have packed the new Drury Lane production with a feast of sumptuous dazzle. “Be Our Guest” is as eye-popping as Saturday night at the Moulin Rouge in the heart of the Belle Epoch.
‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’
When: Through Jan. 27
Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
There are real emotional stakes on the Oakbrook Terrace stage. The affection between Belle (Erica Stephen, projecting wit and strength even when the plot has Belle doing things that nobody with either would dream of) and her father Maurice (the comically gifted Mark David Kaplan) radiates genuine warmth.
When housekeeper-turning-into-a-teapot Mrs. Potts (Bri Sudia) looks at her son-becoming-a-cup Chip (Sophie Ackerman on opening night, Graham Carlson at some performances), you can feel the pang of a parent yearning for a miracle.
When the Beast (Brandon Contreras, a large, appropriately tormented, hulking presence) laments acting like a jerk in his youth, the howl of self-loathing is believable.
Souza’s cast knows how to bring down the house and deliver on the smaller moments, too.
Still, “Beauty” is impossible to wholeheartedly recommend. That’s because it’s the story of a woman who falls in love with a guy who imprisons her in his castle. The Beast’s looks aren’t his primary problem, despite his harping on his supposed hideousness. He needs to think less about his appearance and more about his behavior.
On a scale of one to 10, with one being human and 10 being a beast, this Beast is about a three. An abundance of unkempt body hair the need of a mani-pedi does not a monster make. His horns are very Pan-like, which would probably be considered quite attractive in some circles.
Gaston (Mark Banik, with jaw by Kirk Douglas, manliness by St. Michael the Warrior, mind by Cro-Magnon man) is also problematic, but at least Belle hates Gaston because he’s such a bully. How she can hate a bully but love a kidnapper is a glaring mystery left unexplored.
Then, there are some staging issues, particularly with a climactic magical transformation that takes place toward the end. Souza’s staging has little magic and a preponderance of stage fog. So much stage fog, in fact, that Belle is invisible during one of her most emotional refrains. When the transformation comes, the quantity of fog turns out to be more impressive.
Kevin Depinet’s set design is also underwhelming. It’s an Escher-print’s array of staircases that revolve throughout. The staircases are omnipresent, no matter which part of the turntable is featured. There are staircases in the castle. There are staircases in the village square. There are staircases in the woods. They allow for dynamic blocking. But, after the third rotation or so, they start to feel repetitive. And a magic rose that plays a crucial part in both the plot and the set is a towering neon configuration that calls to mind a tattoo-parlor sign on the fritz.
Is Gaston’s behavior stalking? Yes. Does Disney ask everyone to believe that happily-ever-after means falling in love with your kidnapper? Yes. Is “Be Our Guest” basically worth the price of a ticket? Yes. Does the dancing cheese-grater deliver some of the astounding gymnastics you’ll see outside of an elite level competition? Yes.
Like its title, “Beauty and the Beast” can evoke conflicting feelings. Though if you’re under 5 or so, you aren’t going to mind.
Catey Sullivan is a freelance writer.