"Tale as old as time" nails the complex simplicity of Beauty and the Beast the quintessential story of true love, the most difficult to obtain and sustain. Disney's adaptation of the fairy tale with its sweepingly imaginative spectacle wins over even the hardest of hearts. The animated film was such a tremendous hit in 1991 that it was adapted for the stage in 1994 with new songs by Tim Rice added to the Academy Award-winning movie score by deceased Howard Ashman. It ran worldwide until 2007 and proves undoubtedly that fairy tales retain a popularity that never dies. The current revival tour of Beauty and the Beast, now at the Pantages until March 27, is every bit as glorious, delectable and elegant as the original.
Director Rob Roth and choreographer Matt West keep the action vibrantly alive from second to second throughout and are supported by a tremendously gifted cast. Liz Shivener makes the spirited Belle a model of perfection, the self-educated provincial girl who understands what it means to be different. Shunned by others because of her solitary preoccupation with books, she is more wise and caring than most girls her age. Justin Glaser as Beast has a magnificent vocal range and essays the strenuous physical role with towering strength. His transition from mean to tender is a delicious experience. Equally physical and vocally adept is Nathaniel Hackmann as Gaston, the comically cartoonish bully who proves the real beast of the evening. His comedic moves are just delightful. Comical characters enthrall us in all Disney productions and none more so than the varied over-the-top characters of all shapes and sizes. Merritt David Janes as Lumiere, Keith Kirkwood as Cogsworth, and Andrew Kruep as Lefou, Gaston's foolish sidekick whose pratfalls occur about every two seconds steal every scene they are in. Equally delightful are Christopher Spencer as Maurice, Belle's inventor father, Sabina Petra as Mrs. Potts, the teapot who sings the tile song so beautifully, Erin Elizabeth Coors as the saucy Babette, and the very funny Jen Bechter as Madame de la Grande Bouche, a chest of drawers quite unlike any you've ever seen.
Scenery by Stanley A. Meyer, costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting design by Natasha Katz and sound by John Petrafesa are all scrumptious and add colorful highlights to the beloved story. Tim Rice's song "If I Can't Love Her" sung by the Beast as the Act I finale is my favorite. Perhaps the most heartbreaking number in the show, it expresses the intense agony he feels to be human again.
It doesn't really take as much strength to defeat an enemy as it does to win him over. Hate is easy; love is the hardest act to follow. Watching Belle work her magic on Beast and experiencing his refinement make Disney's Beauty and the Beast sheer enchantment for children of all ages.
5 out of 5 stars