This year, the Palace Theater in Waterbury has already hosted Avenue Q, Hairspray, Cirque Dreams Illumination, A Chorus Line, and, just recently, Disney’s Beauty and Beast.
I loved Beauty and the Beast when I first saw it on Broadway. Unfortunately, some of the magic was missing from this road company performance. The target audience for this show is definitely young girls, evidenced by the many princesses in costume who were waiting in the lobby prior to the doors opening. Unfortunately, the show is also very dark, and the scary effects are loud, which was frightening to some of these young Belles. The little girl sitting next to me was so scared that she cried and begged her mother to take her home for about 20 minutes during the first half of the show. Maybe it did not help the situation that this was an evening performance; the combination of being tired on top of being scared made this the wrong show for the under 5 years old set.
I found some of the effects puzzling. The forest scenes took place behind a filmy dark screen, which obscured some of the action taking place and also seemed to drown out Maurice’s song as he rode his invention on the way to the science fair. The wolves were puppets, but not very well executed. During Belle’s flight into the forest, it looked like some of the wolves pursuing her were flying. I certainly did not remember puppets in the Broadway production and I was not impressed.
Another big disappointment was the set. I realize that for a traveling show, the sets need to be easy to move, however, the castle was so minimal, it was hardly impressive at all. When the Beast showed Belle his gift to her, it was just a small arch of books that appeared overhead. The books were not at all realistic looking, over-sized and painted in pale colors, with just a couple of real books on the floor for Belle to pick and read. Again, the effect was underwhelming.
The biggest disappointments were some of the performances of the actors. Liz Shivener was good as Belle, but when she was singing some of her more dramatic songs, her voice became too loud, making it sound somewhat harsh. The performance I attended had an understudy, Steve Czarnecki, playing The Beast. He was very good as the Beast, but somewhat less impressive as the Prince. I actually saw him take off his mask during his transformation scene, taking all of the awe out of the moment. Sabina Petra played Mrs. Potts. Her singing was good, but she affected a cockney accent in her speaking voice that was overdone. She sounded more like Eliza Doolittle instead of Angela Lansbury. And the comic antics of Michael Fatica as Lefou and Nathaniel Hackmann as Gaston were filled with fake, and again loud, sound effects to highlight each punch, tumble, and fall. It was just silly slapstick – low comedy for the sake of getting a laugh from the kids.