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.
I was most disappointed in the performance of Merritt David Janes, who played Lumiere. For me, the appeal of Lumiere has always been that as the French host in the castle, he always seemed to have a somewhat flirtatious air that he would use to invite the other characters and the audience to join him in doing something just a little ‘naughty.’ Mr. Janes’ Lumiere was certainly flirtatious with the other characters on the stage, but he never seemed to connect with the audience. Because of this lack of spark, I never felt that we were invited to the party in the “Be Our Guest” number. In this production, Lumiere was actually upstage instead of being a part of the kick line at the end of the song, distancing himself yet again from the audience. What should have been the show-stopping song, seemed to fall flat. I have enjoyed “Be Our Guest” more in local theater and high school shows with teens than I did at this production.
Not all of the songs were as disappointing as “Be Our Guest.” I did enjoy the opening song, "Belle" and “Human Again." I’m sure the young children in the audience, except for those who were too frightened to stay, loved the show. It certainly felt like Disney, with all the cheese factor of a theme park show, but it lacked the appeal of a true Broadway production. It may have been enjoyable for kids, but for adults, the show just missed the mark. I was disappointed that this touring company production did not live up to the promise of Broadway.