Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Durham Performing Arts Center
Through June 13

There’s not a lot to say about the production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Durham Performing Arts Center other than it certainly looks pretty, and it’s entertaining family fare. If you’ve seen the classic 1991 animated film, you’ve already seen the story. There isn’t much new material beyond a handful of additional songs to link scenes and explain character, all of which might as well be entitled “Padding.”

Should you by some circumstance not be aware of the story, it involves a nice French girl named Belle (Liz Shivener), who likes books and tales of adventure, whose father Maurice (Christopher Spencer) makes the mistake of stumbling onto the castle of a cursed prince turned into a beast (Justin Glaser). Belle agrees to trade places with her father as the Beast’s prisoner, and thus beings a conflict of personalities that might lead to the end of the Beast’s curse.

Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes are suitably colorful, and the design for the Beast is an impressive bit of prosthesis (Glaser also plays him with the right amount of animal body language). There are also lovely sets by Stanley A. Meyer.

Some of the songs (such as the one that introduces of Belle), don’t play as well within a confined set, and other bits abandon the original’s structure. (Why build an elaborate prop for Maurice’s wood-chopping machine if it doesn’t figure into the climaxas it did in the film?)

There’s also some new material about the Beast’s cursed servants turning more and more into knick-knacks, though the costumes just make them look like elaborately dressed humans. The “Be Our Guest” number is suitably show-stopping, but it comes across more as Disney Vegas, complete with showgirls and glitter guns.

Ironically, the most original material in the theatrical production comes from the villain, Gaston (Nathaniel Hackmann), who brings a wonderfully cartoonish physical quality to his role (the best pratfalls belong to Michael Fatica as his sycophant, Lefou). The “Gaston” musical number, involving elaborate choreography and clinking beer steins, is perhaps the sequence that translates best to musical theaterthough perhaps it’s not a good sign when you’re most entertained by the bad guy.

There’s nothing wrong with this adaptation of the cartoon. If you’ve got kids and they really, really want to see it, then, pardon the pun, be our guest. Just remember you might be able to save the ticket price with a DVD.