Those of you who have read my movie reviews know that I like taking a technical, analytical look at film. Today I will begin my first in a series of articles on the Broadway series at DPAC, and where with film I take a cerebral approach, I look to bring a more simplistic, emotional approach to these musicals. While there are invaluable technical aspects to a successful theatrical production, the true power of theater comes from the raw energy and emotion of a live performance (not to mention that I know far less about the technical details of theater compared to film). This season kicked off last night with the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, based on the 1991 Disney classic film, which was Disney’s first foray into Broadway musicals, first opening in 1994, and eventually becoming the 8th longest running show in Broadway history.
Of course, the most important part of any show is the music – and it doesn’t hurt when your musical features three Oscar-nominated songs (one of which won for Best Original Song). While we may have known going in that the songs themselves were fantastic, the execution of the songs made for an excellent transition from screen to stage. The highlight of the evening was the “Be Our Guest” sequence, which managed to bring to exuberant life a scene made up primarily of dancing silverware and dishes. Featured throughout was also plenty of great choreography, particularly during “Gaston,” in which the dancers did a sort of reverse tap dance involving each dancer clanging a pair of metal steins against one another to a rather impressive effect. In addition to the songs pulled from the film, there were also several new songs in the stage production, though they were rarely more than quick little segue numbers, without much in the way or choreography or substance.
Beyond the handful of main characters, the secondary stars of the show were the quite impressive production value and special effects. Pulling tricks from a magician’s act, the show featured several sequences that created quite a trick of the eyes, highlighted by the transformation of the Beast back into a handsome prince in a feat I have yet to figure out on my own. And of course, creating an enchanted Baroque castle occupied by anthropomorphic furniture and dishware requires a good bit of clever ingenuity all around. Of particular note is Lumiere’s costume (the candlestick character, for those less familiar with the story), which featured two candles in place of hands which could be “lit” and “extinguished” on cue.
Full of fun, humor, wonder, and romance, Beauty and the Beast provides an exhilarating show for both young and old. One of the highlights of my night was seeing all of the children at the show who were excited beyond words that they were about to see Belle and the Beast in the flesh. While occasionally the story would stall, particularly during the “new” material not translated from the original film, the energy of the entire performance always joyously prevailed. While it may have been carrying some extra weight to extend to a Broadway-worthy running time, the power of the core beloved story made Beauty and the Beast a truly breathtaking spectacle.
Beauty and the Beast will be playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center from October 8-13. For tickets and showtimes, visit dpacnc.com.