Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beauty and the Beast: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Scattered throughout the opening night audience are several dozen seven year old girls, squirming in their seats in enthusiastic anticipation, each wearing a shiny blue or purple princess costume. (One small boy is also seen, sitting between his two buff dads.) "Beauty and the Beast" is Disney to the core, and whether or not you approve of the message (young woman finds happiness by acting nice and pleasing ogre who then turns into Knight in Shining Armor), it is undeniable that your little daughter will love every second and wish to come back again tomorrow night.

After all, Beauty, a.k.a. Belle (Liz Shivener) is everything her mommy and daddy would want her to be -- oops, only a daddy, no mommy. (There is never a mommy in these fairy tales, unless it's a wicked stepmother. Why is that?) Belle is prim and proper and a bookworm to boot, but with enough moxie to reject the persistent pursuits of Señor Muy Macho, known as Gaston (Nathaniel Hackmann). Gaston is vaguely prehistoric, and doomed to lose his struggle to the more sensitive and modernist Beast (Justin Glaser), but you can't help love poor Gaston. He is playing with a short deck. He can't help being a Republican.

You already know the story -- it has been the same since Aesop. Young girl is a good little thing but the fates have conspired against her. Still, by being very, very good, she will attract the attention of the most powerful man in the kingdom, who has his own tsuris, having been temporarily assigned to beasthood or frogdom; in the end her devotion and kiss will save him and her and the kingdom and the whole damned show.

Which is what happens here. Act I takes a long time to develop, but Act II zips right along carrying your emotions with it. You know exactly what is going to happen but you are cheering for the good guys and hissing the bad guys anyway.

It just feels good: this is the power of the production. Director Rob Roth and Scenic Designer Stanley A. Meyer keep the characters running in and out of movable sets and up and down strange stairways. You never get bored.

But even if your attention should wane, your little princess in the seat next to you is rapt. She loves this stuff. She adores this stuff. She CRAVES it. If you don't give it to her, some handsome prince in the next town will. So you may as well buy an extra ticket and sit through it, knowing that as sure as magic spells only last until the final curtain, you will walk from the theater with a lightened heart and an adoring, snoring sweetheart on your shoulder.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Beauty and the Beast" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. The male leads, in particular (Glaser and Hackmann as the Beast and Gaston) are superb, with huge voices and commanding presences on the stage. Shivener is a fine Belle; also notable are several of the side characters, especially Merritt David Janes as Lumiere.

The BANGLE of PRAISE is for the one notable song in the show: "Beauty and the Beast." It couldn't be more derivative. It also couldn't be more perfect.

For this reviewer, Christopher Spencer as Belle's crazy father is so over the top you don't know whether to laugh or cry and Michael Fatica as Lefou (humorous sidekick) is just plain silly.

But the story rises and falls with Beauty and the Beast.

And you get a Royal Wedding at the End. Shazam!

"Beauty and the Beast"
Golden Gate Theater
1 Taylor Street (at Market Street), San Francisco
Through August 29


Anonymous said...

I'm confused by your review...So, you're saying that the show was good except for Maurice and LeFou?

DAK said...

No. I'm saying the show was OK (Three Stars, not Four), with a few important highlights and a few less important lowlights. People who love this show will love this show regardless of more flat notes than ought to be tolerated in a major production (in my opinion). Perhaps that was just Opening Night Jitters?

Lisa said...

Well, I'm not sure which show you saw, but I thought everyone in "Beauty and the Beast" was fantastic, including Lefou and Belle's father. How odd that you would single out those two small roles in the first place.

By the way, you rating system is ridiculous. Bang? Baub? Please!

DAK said...

Yes, my wife thinks bangs and baubs are pretty ridiculous too. You're not her, are you? Thanks for caring enough to comment. I was pretty sure I would upset people who love the show, but it's just one man's opinion. Please feel free to comment anytime you agree or disagree with me.