Dane Agostinis and Emily Behny (photo: Joan Marcus)
Ticket prices condemn this one
by Dave Ross
Beauty and the Beast took Broadway by storm, fuelled in part by a review from New York Times critic Frank Rich proclaiming the film as 1991’s best musical. The spark was lit, and Beauty and the Beast: The Musical opened in 1994, running continuously on Broadway until 2007, when it closed to make way for The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast was the first of the Disney Musicals, and paved the way for many, many more excellent productions.
This Dancap presentation of Beauty and the Beast is not the first time Toronto has seen this show, but it is the first time that this new, re-imagined production has been to our city. Not that the original show was tired, but after more than a decade it is refreshing to see new sets and choreography make their way into the mix.
Unfortunately, even the best sets and costumes can’t disguise a lacklustre performance, and this production is full of them. Emily Behny as Belle is charming to look at, but piercing to listen to. My companion for the night highlighted that she has one mode of delivering her lines, which keeps everything at the same emotional level. Dan Agostinis does a good job as the Beast, but his performance is only that, good. Each of these characters has a song in the musical where I feel their character needs to really kill it— “Home” for Belle and “If I Can’t Love Her” for Beast—and neither of them pulled it off. There is shining talent in this show, but it appears in the secondary characters. Michael Haller pulls off a wonderful Lumiere, and Jessica Lorion does a charming Babette. Worth special mention is Jen Bechter as Madame de la Grande Bouche. The production has comedic elements in this role, and Bechter has her timing nailed. The entire ensemble is talented, no question, but there were spots were it seemed as though they were phoning it in as CharPo contributor Stuart Munro sometimes says. In contrast, Haller, Lorion, and Becher appear to be having a blast performing their roles, and this makes their performances shine.
The scenic design, by original designer Stanley A. Meyer, is quite versatile, using a series of asymmetrical staircases that can be arranged to create different environs in the story. The design really gets to show in company numbers like “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again.” The costumes by Ann Hould-Ward are luxurious. When it comes to lighting, the show is quite dark, and I feel as though this detracts in places. Certainly, there are dark spots in the story, but when the Beast is lamenting in his “If I Can’t Love Her” ballad, I should be able to see his face. He’s frequently lit from above, with his mane casting shadows over his face. The sound design, by John Petrafasa was good, but also intrusive in places. There are heavy slapstick elements, particularly for the role of LeFou, and these had WHAM, POW, SLAP noises dubbed into them. It seemed unnecessary, and to me, took away from the performance. Additionally, the sound levels were remarkably inconsistent. The orchestra was frequently too loud, and lyrics and dialogue would frequently get lost in an echo-y, mushy soundscape. The puppet design by Basil Twist, used to represent the Enchantress in the prologue as well as the wolves, lacked polish. The Enchantress is a multi-storey, extremely thin affair that waves frantically back and forth with its arms in the air, reminding me of those inflatable wavy-armed contraptions that scream “USED CARS!” on the side of the highway. The wolves were somewhat better executed, but at times were baying with no sound effect, and their movements would move from decently realistic to implausible. Puppets are one thing that must be absolutely spot on.
I do find myself wondering if some of the shortcomings in the production are due to the fact that it is a non-Equity show. The Equity debate is a heated one, but I do wonder if an Equity production might have been more spot-on. Regardless, this production is good fun for the family, and if you take your little prince or princess, they will undoubtedly enjoy themselves (you’ll be beaming at the end of “Be Our Guest”). Just be prepared to check your adult sensibilities at the door, which - at up to $150 a ticket - seems like a disappointing requirement.