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A Parent's Review: Disney's "Beauty and The Beast"

beauty-and-the-beastBy Emily M. Smith

Editor's note: Our apologies for posting the review late in the run -- our originally scheduled review date was postponed. Note that there are still tickets for Disney's Beauty and The Beast at the Paramount Theatre for Sunday evening, Feb. 26, and Monday night, Feb. 27.

I don’t love Disney. I generally regard the movies with a critical eye, on guard for gender-biasing characters and harmful stereotypes. But the magical tone of the Broadway smash hit, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast won me over even before the show started — in the Paramount Theatre lobby with the abundance of pink-cheeked little girls in floor length frills, shiny shoes and tiaras. Their collective excitement melted away any cynicism I may have been harboring.

The Paramount’s French Renaissance style is well-suited for an international sensation that has played to over 35 million people worldwide in 13 countries — the only thing that reminded me that I was still in Seattle was the prominence of jeans and Gore-Tex.

The creative team of the original Broadway production reunited to develop this version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Rob Roth directs the touring production based on the book by Linda Woolverton.

A prince, played by Dane Agostinis, gets on the wrong side of an enchantress and she casts a progressive spell on him. She leaves behind a rose to act as an hour glass; it drops petals in a countdown to the doom of everyone in the castle. Belle, played by Emily Behny is a spirited bookworm who longs for something more exciting than her provincial life. Her wish comes true when her brainy but befuddled father gets lost in the woods and becomes a prisoner, of, you guessed it, the prince-turned-beast. She offers herself up as a trade for her father’s freedom.

By the time Belle shows up the beast is in a very bad mood and all the inhabitants of his castle have almost completely transformed into a non-human version of their most prominent traits. Bad for them, good for the audience — Mrs. Potts is a sweet-faced teapot with a even sweeter teacup of a son named Chip; Lumière is an amorous candlestick with a thick French accent; Cogsworth is a tightly-wound British clock; Babette is a flirty feather duster; and my personal favorite, Madame de la Grande Bouche, is a mouthy armoire that could give Mae West a run for her money.

The only way to break the spell is if the Beast learns to love someone other than himself and if he behaves well enough to allow for the object of his affection to return the sentiment—a long shot even for a guy not covered in hair and humps. As you may know, the enslaved Belle captures his heart, tames him and wins her freedom. This happy progression is complicated by the fantastically self-obsessed Gaston, played by Logan Denninghoff (who hails from our very own land of Bothell), who has also sets his sights on the heroine.

Now I’m not just saying this because he is eye candy or because he is a local boy, but the first act belongs to Denninghoff. His comedic timing is flawless, his physicality and smarmy charm supersedes that of his animated counterpart. The eyebrow alone is worth the price of admission. His villain-y-ness gets ramped up in the second act, making him more the token bad guy. The two principals are then free to bring it home and Behny and Agostinis rise to the occasion.

The dance numbers, choreographed by Matt West, are high energy, full of well-timed slapstick and executed flawlessly. The ensemble dance number in the village inn is over-the-top fun (think Stomp with beer steins) and dancing plates become a cross of water ballet and Vegas showgirls. Ann Hould-Ward won a Tony for her work on the Broadway version for Costume Design and it shows.

Scenic Designer Stanley A. Meyer and Lighting Designer Natasha Katz created fanciful sets — the airy structures and transparent textures reinforce the theme of looking past, or through, to the truth of one’s essential being. At one point, I couldn’t concentrate on the performance; I was trying to figure out how they made the tea cart look see-through when clearly it wasn’t (unless, of course, they managed to find a bodiless kid to play Chip.)

The music was simply beautiful. The vocals were clear and well-carried.  For the tour version, Menken worked with Tim Rice to add new songs to the Academy-Award-winning score, beefing up the musical quotient.

Parents of sensitive kiddos need to know that there are some scary parts. There are wolves — beautifully styled puppets accompanied by a booming (albeit small) orchestra set to dim lights and lots of commotion. The Beast isn’t overly scary, although he has his moments. There is a light-handed touch of the ribald. None of it is enough to get your drawers in a bunch, though.

Even if you are deficient in the fairy-tale gene, you can allow yourself to get swept away in the music, the visuals and the performances. There are a few surprises that keep the audience engaged and riveted. If you have the chance to make one of the last shows, grab your tiara and go.

If you go

What: Disney's Beauty and the Beast, The Paramount Theatre, Seattle

When: Sunday, Feb. 26, 6:30 p.m.; Monday, Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $55-$105; order them online at Seattle Theatre Group

Emily Metcalfe Smith is writer, mother, and an occasional tiara-wearer. She is also ParentMap’s Out & About intern.

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