“Beauty and the Beast,” the musical based on the Disney film, based on a French story, based on a 4,000-year-old folk tale, premiered Wednesday night at Starlight Theatre.
Given a show so well known, it makes little sense to rehash the story. Let’s do it anyway. “Beauty” tells the story of a prince transformed into a beast as punishment for his cruelty. He imprisons a young woman named Belle and must earn her love to become human again. Spoiler alert: He does.
Crowds know what they are getting in terms of song and story. The question is whether the performances and production values are worth the price of admission. In this case, they are. Mostly. The almost full, heavily female audience certainly seemed to think so. Then again, that crowd included a healthy contingent of young girls dressed in princess costumes.
The non-Equity cast was fine, if unspectacular. The only performer who truly popped onstage was Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek, who beautifully embodied preening, swaggering proto-bro Gaston. Stephanie Gray as Mrs. Potts also had presence, and Ryan N. Philips amused as Lumiere, channeling Frank Nelson from the old Jack Benny show.
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The stars were less compelling. Brooke Quintana as Belle was solid. She hit every note, playing Belle as a classic, cute and feisty Disney heroine, but never managed to invest her character with any passion. Sam Hartley as The Beast was equally adequate and tame.
The production values were just as average. The scenic design was charming enough — cottages and castle done in that ramshackle, cartoonish version of medieval Europe that stands for “old” in every Disney fairy tale. Basil Twist’s puppets were fun. The show had just enough special effects — a thunderbolt, swirling fog, strobe lights and streamers — to satisfy the demands of a modern audience. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes, with their Louis XIV meets Brothers Grimm vibe, were a bright spot. The sound, unfortunately, was glitchy, with a few noticeable microphone malfunctions.
“Beauty” is not a work of great psychological depth. This is a fairy tale and works provided you expect nothing more from it. This particular iteration was a decent touring version of a Broadway musical, well lit, well choreographed, well sung and decently produced.
Broadway shows, however, are a bit like bagels. Once upon a time, you could barely get them outside New York. Now you can get respectable bagels almost anywhere, even right here in Kansas City. If you want a truly great bagel, though, just like a truly sumptuous Broadway production, it seems you’ve still got to go to New York City to get it.