This story doesn’t require much explanation – after all, as the song says, it’s a “tale as old as time.” In fact, the traditional French fairy tale dates back as far as the 1700s. Like many fairy tales, the story has seen numerous adaptations over the centuries from print to stage to screen – the most notable being Disney’s 1991 feature film, which was the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as winning Oscars for Best Song and Best Original Score. It’s no surprise that the stage production, which first debuted on Broadway in 1994 with book by Linda Woolvrton and music by Alan Menken and Tim Rice, is as grandiose, if not more so, in typical Disney fashion.
Closely following the film version, the musical focuses on the young, beautiful French maiden, Belle (played to perfection by Emily Behny), considered an oddball in her provincial town as a free-thinker and voracious reader, and as the only local girl who doesn’t swoon over the shallow and ego-maniacal beefcake Gaston. Logan Denninghoff is fantastic comic relief playing up Gaston’s true love for himself, flexing his muscles with great drama and “animation” all over the stage. Taking to the woods to look for her lost eccentric inventor father, Belle stumbles upon the castle of a one-time prince, turned into a hideous beast by an evil enchantress’ spell – one that can only be broken when he can learn to love again and be loved in return. To save the life of her father, she is taken captive by the Beast, vowing to live out her days in the castle. The rest, of course, is the tale of how, though first repulsed by his haggard appearance and his seemingly cruel nature, Belle learns to see the beauty within the Beast, falling in love with him and eventually reversing the spell.
Dane Agostinis gives an inspired performance as the tortured Beast, fully embodying the feelings of loneliness, regret, self-loathing and desire. Providing as much entertainment are the castle’s “Enchanted Objects” including hormone-driven candelabra Lumiere (an absolutely charming Michael Haller), Cogsworth the clock (James May), teapot Mrs. Potts (Julia Louise Hosack) and wardrobe Madame de la Grande Bouche (a hilarious Jen Bechter).
The show is a complete feast for the senses with detailed, colorful, multi-layered sets, special effects and elaborate period costumes. A full orchestra breathes life into the award-winning score. There are several show-stopping numbers, in the first act particularly, including the humorous tavern party “Gaston,” and the over-the-top “Be Our Guest,” complete with a kick line and confetti cannons.
Though there is certainly a bit of adult humor sprinkled in, the true magic of this musical can be seen in the faces of the numerous children in the audience (my own included), mesmerized by one of their favorite fairy tales come so vividly to life. We all need a little “happily ever after” now and then – and Beauty and the Beast more than delivers it.
Performances of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast continue through December 24. Performance times are Wednesday through Friday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday matinee at 1 p.m. and Saturday at 11am. For more information you may contact the Fox Theatre at 314-534-1678.