The latest national touring company of “Beauty and the Beast” drew a big crowd at the Saroyan Theatre last night — suggesting that this title hasn’t lost its “put the butts in the seats” appeal for producers. The audience was met with a significantly revamped production that, for better or worse, at least made the experience a lot different for repeat visitors. (You can’t discount all the younger patrons who recently reached the age to be able to see it the first time, of course.)
The show continues 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Saroyan Theatre.
I had mixed feelings about the show. I liked some aspects of the sleeker and more streamlined (um, cheaper) design aesthetic (lots of layered scrims, painted backdrops and thick drapery punctuated by movable set pieces — it gave the production more of a old-fashioned storybook feel), and I thought Nathaniel Hackmann’s booming Gaston was first-rate, along with the performances of some of the enchanted objects (especially David Merritt Janes’ Lumiere). I also really like some of the cuts and tightening of the storyline in the second act (no love lost here for the confusing song “Maison Des Lunes”), although the precious saved minutes from the overall running time were squandered by a more loosey-goosey direction throughout — including some overly hammy draw-out-the-laugh moments between Belle and the Beast — that gave us some dawdling moments of near-satire.
I didn’t like Belle’s exaggerated pluckiness (Liz Shivener made me think more of a brisk local TV reporter than grand Disney heroine) and wasn’t overly impressed with her vocals (frankly, local community Belle veteran Lorraine Christensen has a purer and sweeter tone), and the costumes were a pretty big disappointment. (Cogsworth looked like he was wearing clock pajamas.)
Did you attend the show last night? What did you think?