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Theater
 
If it Ain’t Broke…
Pioneer Theatre Brings Back its Somewhat Superfluous Holiday Hit

By Rob Tennant
 
Review:
'Beauty and the Beast'
 
Pioneer Theatre Company
(138 W. 300 South)
 
Through Dec. 24, at 7:30 p.m. on Mondays through Thursday, 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and select Fridays and Tuesdays.
Buy tickets from $22 to $49 via
www.pioneertheatre.org
 

In the lobby of the Pioneer Theatre, where the resident professional company of the same name is currently staging its production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” for the second consecutive holiday season (Nov. 30 through Dec. 24), there is a computerized baby grand piano plinking out familiar Disney tunes all by itself. Regardless of your mindset, be it cynical or innocent, it definitely sets the mood.

You know how kids like to watch the same movie over and over, often multiple times in a single day? Well, this play is a lot like that, except the kids got dressed up and maybe had dinner somewhere kind of fancy first, too.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not too cool to admit that I hold fondly the memory of the 1991 animated film on which the production is based. I understand and appreciate the role that simple and moralistic stories play in our society, especially for the kiddies. Children should be taught that beauty is only skin deep and that true value lies within and stuff like that. If catchy songs and dancing dinnerware are what it takes to hold the necessary attention, I’m OK with that, too. I guess I just feel that if you expect folks to shell out $100-plus to take the whole family out to THE THEATRE (sic), then make it more worth their while.

The stage production (book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Doward Ashman and Tim Rice) is a well-executed cut-and-paste job from the source material. There are few variations in terms of costuming, sets, and stage direction. The design philosophy seems to have been to reproduce the cartoon as meticulously as possible. The problem therein is that it only serves to highlight the shortcomings of the production by inviting an equally meticulous comparison, in which the movie eventually wins out.

Eventually, but not in every aspect. In some ways, the PTC production meets or exceeds the standards of the film. The supporting cast is excellent. The roles of Gaston (Jeremy Stolle), Lumiere (Craig Waletzko), Cogsworth (Max Robinson) and Mrs. Potts (Susan Bigelow) are all performed with subtlety and in good voice. The portrayal of Gaston is particularly worthy of note. Stolle manages to bring unexpected dimension to the role, as well as a perfect blend of comic timing and villainy. His signature number, “Gaston,” is the best of the show, and his presence aids all his scenes.

The costuming (Susan Branch) for the staff of the Beast’s castle is often ingenious. Lumiere’s candle-hands ignite on stage and Chip, the little talking teacup, rolls around at will.

The performances of Belle (Elizabeth Stanley) and the Beast (Gregg Goodbrod), however, fall short of expectations. Though both performers are strong singers, they are far more consistent with hitting musical notes than poignant ones. In scenes taken directly from the film, the audience is able to project the appropriate emotional rhythm. But in musical numbers original to the stage version, like “Is This Home?,” Belle’s inner state and feelings are not made the least bit clear.

The portrayal of The Beast replaces intimidating grandeur and sympathy-inducing loneliness with an irritating display of mincing petulance. Not surprisingly, the supposed growing love and respect between the two is not portrayed convincingly, and the show as a whole comes off somewhat hollow as a result. With the holidays upon us, I think what I’m going to do is sit down with my niece and nephews and dust off the old VHS of “Beauty and the Beast.” That’s a good movie.

rob[at] saltshakermagazine.com
 

 
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