The kid behind me at the Benedum may have been the happiest human being in the known universe. We were both there to see the Pittsburgh CLO production of Beauty and the Beast; he because it was his favorite musical ever!, me because of a series of bad life choices.
“It’s starting in 23 minutes!” “In 17 minutes!” “6 minutes!” I thought the poor thing was going to stroke out. When I looked back to stifle him with a brutally raised eyebrow I saw he had even come dressed as Gaston, the show’s villain. Meanwhile I’d come dressed as a middle-aged theater critic, the show’s enemy.
Beauty and the Beast continues through August 5. Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, Downtown. 412-456-6666.
Even by the bloated Disney-On-Broadway standard, Beauty and the Beast is a fairly numbing experience feeling hollow from beginning to end. If there’s a reason for it’s being (other than to absorb cash from doting parents) it never makes its own case.
In 1991 Disney released the animated feature with music by Alan Menken and lyrics from Howard Ashman. (The team behind Little Shop of Horrors.) It was a huge success (the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar) and people remarked how much it felt like a Broadway musical.
Well, three years later the show actually did turn up on Broadway, with several new songs from Menken but lyrics by Tim Rice (Ashman had died during the film’s production.) Interestingly, the Disney Corporation, instead of hiring a big-name Broadway director, brought in someone who had directed shows at Disney theme-parks.
And it’s that mindset which renders this musical so utterly devoid of any sincerity with little style or, for lack of a better word, authenticity. It feels like an amusement park ride running on a continual loop and when, or even if, you get on or off doesn’t change anything.
But I doubt anyone — especially that mini-Gaston behind me — felt the same way I did. The CLO production is professionally dispatched, with direction from Michael Heitzman and choreography by Robbie Roby. Jessica Grové is a pert, pretty and persuasive Belle and James Snyder, laboring under pounds and pounds of costume and make up, manages to give the Beast a bit of humanity. I could have done without all the “homosexual panic” jokes in the Gaston/Lefou B-story, but Jason Michael Evans and Andrew Kruep do them well. The supporting cast are all battling against the wearisome spectacle of the costumes, but Benjamin Howes is an entertaining Lumiere.
Ted Hoover is the Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org