BRO Music and Arts contributor Hannah Gordon
This “tale as old as time” hasn’t lost its touch—even after a decade of performances.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast opened at Shea’s Performing Arts Center last night to a packed house. Twenty-somethings in attendance were sent back to childhood just as easily as little girls in princess dresses were swept up in the magic.
Ornate scenery and special effects engulfed the stage. The scenic design, by Stanley Meyer, transformed the stage into a pop-up storybook. Set pieces were multifunctional and rarely still. A house turns into a tavern, a staircase into a wall and then into a library shelf. Maybe HGTV should take some tips from Meyer about space-saving techniques for indoor decorating.
Alan Menken’s Academy Award-winning songs, six of which come from the animated film (lyrics by the late Howard Ashman), didn’t do much to progress the plot but highlighted moments instead. “Belle,” “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” were crowd favorites and sure to make you want to sing along. Six of the other seven songs feature lyrics by Tim Rice. Ashman died in 1991 before the Broadway production was underway. The seventh song was cut from the animated film but used in the musical.
“No Matter What” and “If I Can’t Love Her” are emotional and give a look into character’s thoughts previously unheard. Belle, played wonderfully by Hilary Maiberger, wonders if there really is something wrong with her, and Beast, played impeccably by Darick Pead, shows the soft-side of his heart and longing for a change in himself.
Until the final scene of Act I, the supporting characters completely steal the show. Gaston, played by Tim Rogan, and his goofy sidekick Lefou, played by Jordan Aragorn, are a hilarious duo. From accidentally kissing to the slapstick comedy that comes with Gaston’s constant bullying, you’ll find yourself wanting them back on stage despite their bad guy tendencies. Lumiere, played by Hassan Nazari-Robati, lights up the stage—sometimes literally—with wit, sarcasm, and a comical French accent. Gaston, Lefou, and Lumiere run the show until Beast finishes the act with “If I Can’t Love Her,” a ballad that ends with “If I can’t love her, let the world be done with me” in Pead’s booming voice.
Right before “If I Can’t Love Her,” Lumiere leads “Be Our Guest,” an almost over-stimulating rendition filled with streamers and flashing lights, which showcases just how much the actors are made to look like their cartoon counterparts. Even Maiberger embodies the youth and beauty that comes with Belle’s character. The only problem I have with some of the costuming is that it had a tendency to be a bit racy for a children’s show. During “Be Our Guest,” the dancers sport hearts over their crotches, which caught me a bit off guard. Babette, the dancing duster, had a skirt so short I swear I could see her butt. Aside from that, the costuming was phenomenal. Leave it to Disney to get a 10-year-old boy to look like a teapot.
Unfortunately, some people (i.e. Colin Dabkowski, News Arts Critic, The Buffalo News) feel that Beauty and the Beast is a sexist story portraying female inferiority and servitude to men. While I applaud Mr. Dabkowski for being an equalist, a mentality that more people should have, I think he missed a lot. Belle is an extremely strong woman, one I looked up to as a girl. Belle has an inquisitive mind and is okay with being herself, despite the fact that she’s considered odd by the townspeople. She’s intelligent, and despite Gaston’s creepy, superior attitude, she holds her ground with him. Belle ventures alone into the woods to rescue her father which is pretty brave, if you ask me. Not only does she find him, she refuses to be intimidated by the Beast. In fact, Belle saves the Beast, does she not? Loving him may not be heroic, but running back into the woods where she was previously attacked by wolves just to warn the Beast that the townspeople were coming is pretty courageous. Yes, the Beast does treat Belle badly when they first meet, but she recognizes when he has a change of heart, which is an important lesson for youngsters: people can change.
“There’s been a change in me
A kind of moving on
Though what I used to be
I still depend upon
For now I realize
That good can come from bad
That may not make me wise
But oh it makes me glad”
-Belle, “A Change In Me”
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast runs through Sunday, May 4 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St. Tickets: $32.50-$127.50. More information at sheas.org or (716) 847-0850.