Beauty and the Beast
The National Theatre’s production of "Beauty and the Beast" dramatizes the Disney movie in vivid color and visual spectacle.
First appearing on Broadway in 1994, this play was ready-made for the stage because of a strong score written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice from the movie. While scaled down from the Broadway version, the fourth national tour still sports impressive scenic design by Stanley Meyer, and costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, and is in many ways a cartoon come to life.
Some parts of the movie translate easily. The smart, spunky Belle (Emily Behny) dresses almost identically to her digital doppelganger, and possesses the same brave, fiery and honest charm. The play succeeds when it stays closest to its source material, and hits an occasional sour note when it strays too far, mostly through the addition of several tuneless songs that did not appear in the movie.
However, the traditional key productions, "Gaston," "Be Our Guest," "Something There," and of course "Beauty and the Beast" capture the magic of its source, and create a little new three-dimensional magic of its own.
"Be Our Guest" is specifically the scene-stealer of the show. As the music crescendos the costumed food and plates spin around, their dancing becomes faster and sharper, and with each turn, the costumes and props more exaggerated and over the top. Dancers are adorned like moving confections, whether they are wearing hats with forks on them, brightly layered hoop skirts, or candy-colored costumes.
The set shifts and evolves throughout the play, creating a sense of the gigantic, enchanted castle where the Beast resides. Effective scene changes help create his library, ballroom, bedroom, and dining tables.
The costumes for the Beast’s varied servants are equally imaginative and bold, super-sizing the porcelain structure of Ms. Potts (Julia Louise Hosack), the dripping candlesticks of Lumiere (Michael Haller), and the inner workings of the gears on the clock Cogsworth (James May), while humanizing all of them at the same time.
The two male leads, however, come up short of their cartoon corollaries. Gaston (Matt Farcher) is more goofy and buffoonish than menacing and slick as is his two-dimensional inspiration. Meanwhile the Beast (Dane Agostinis) is neither gruff enough to merit his name, nor romantic and charming enough to hint that he is a prince in disguise.
However, as the heroine, Behny is such a strong and sassy soprano and so confident and eminently likeable in the role of Belle that it almost doesn’t matter that she lacks an equally dynamic male foil, either in the form of the hero or villain.
"Beauty and the Beast" runs through June 24 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW. For tickets or information call Tele-charge at 800-447-7400 or go to http://www.nationaltheatre.org/