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“Beauty and Beast” Timeless Tale Well-Told Again

December 7, 2011

Generally speaking, repurposing art—turning coming books into films, films into Broadway shows—runs inherent risks with both fans and non-fans alike. Some will find the new iteration of a favorite yarn an unworthy departure from its original source, while others will fail to grasp the backstories and nuances that true fans otherwise have come to appreciate, leaving the experience incomplete and unsatisfying.

And then there are those cases where sheer production values overcome any shortfalls, perceived or real, with panache significant enough to erase all former memories of the original source material. Such is the case with “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” which opened Tuesday at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts as part of the Broadway Over America series.

The stage musical, adapted from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” is as animated as the 1991 animated film from which it was derived. As stage musicals go, the 185-minute show’s narrative is a summary of the tale of the vain prince turned into a beast for his unkindness who can only be saved by true love. (SIGH.) But any perceived shortfall is more than made up for by bright colors, vivid production values and enough bombast to keep audience members of all ages well entertained.

Singing is strong, especially among principals Belle (Emily Behny), the Beast (Dane Agostinis) and Gaston (Logan Denninghoff), the heavily muscled Lothario who actually cuts a more dashing figure in has vane pursuit of Belle than Agostinos, freed of his Beastly makeup, does at the show’s end. But that’s theater for you.

Regardless of personal preferences, the largely female audience of all ages swooned with the show’s romance, laughed at its rampant humor and erupted in applause and cheers at appropriate moments, not the least of which was the show-stopping “Be Our Guest” signature number in which household items from candelabra to cutlery serenade an enchanted Belle. They’re all present, too, from Lumiere (Michael Haller) to Mrs. Potts (Julia Louise Hosack). The only difference is that, played by actors, they are out of necessity human-sized.

The songs by Alan Mencken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice prove quite well-suited for the stage, leading to full-out performances that fill cavernous Overture Hall with energy and light. Despite reservations to the contrary, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” works and works well, offering an evening of fun and enjoyment to even the most jaded critic.

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