By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
That's how the puppetmasters at Disney, those experts at the deceptively squishy hard sell, like it. Repetition is the key to kids' entertainment, and the live actors onstage in this show mimic, almost gesture for gesture, the movements of their animated counterparts. How humiliating that must be, even backed up by a fat road-tour paycheck.
In a Disney product, if it works once, do it again and then bring it back later as a reminder. In Disney's politically correct musical fairy tales, characters make the same jokes a jillion times, and the big songs repeat more often than a garlic sandwich. In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, there are no fewer than six repeats of various tunes throughout the show, four doubling up in the first act alone. This musical has more gratuitous reprises than Carol Channing's career.
At more than two and a half hours (90 minutes just for the first act), this show also goes long for big-budget children's theater (and that is, after all, all it is). The first half of Act 2 grinds away slowly with too much blather among the feather duster, Babette (Tracy Generalovich), Lumiere, the talking candelabrum (Rob Lorey), and Madame de la Grande Bouche (Monica M. Wemitt), who is some sort of laundry hamper or stereo cabinet.
The enchanted castle bursts the seams with talking furniture and dancing cutlery in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. A witch's curse has brought the pantry contents to life and turned a handsome prince (Roger Befeler) into a hairy troglodyte. The only hope for the cursed utensils is for a pretty girl to fall in love with the Beast, which will restore the furnishings back to human form. Meanwhile, until Belle (Jennifer Shrader) can be coaxed to love Beast, the salt cellars, sugar bowls, teapots and flyswatters remain imprisoned in a sort of Bed, Bath & Beyond set to music.
Beyond that, there's not much to this silly show. They pretend there's a message about inner beauty and true love and how a smart woman can change a troubled man into a prince, but we all know that's a crock (hey, where was the dancing crock?). Some good stage effects and sparkly fireworks wake up the tykes after the slow parts. Huge pieces of scenery slide around with cinematic speed, and at the end, when the Beast turns back into a pretty boy, they spin him like a whirligig midair. That's pretty cool.
But great music? No. Great acting? Dancing? No. No. Pity these actors a little for spending months on end dressed up as blenders and butter knives. For this they went to Juilliard. On the night reviewed, there was an announcement made that the role of the Doormat was being played by an understudy. Being the understudy for the role of the Doormat in a Disney musical serves as the very definition of "doormat." Some dreams die hard.