Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Beauty and the Beast

NETworks touring production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast was recently in Toronto.  This one I wasn't going to miss.  I have fond memories of the previous incarnation back in 1995 at the Princess of Wales Theatre.  That might have actually been my first time in that theatre.  The recent version was brought by Dancap, not Mirvish and there were some large differences.

By its nature a touring production is generally not as elaborate as one settling into a location for a more lengthy run than a few weeks, but being familiar with the latter it's hard to get the preconceived notions out of my head.  Additionally I am intimately familiar with the music on the Broadway cast recording, so the first thing that hit me was the lack of lush and full sound in the overture.  With a grand total of 6 strings (2 each of violin, cello and bass), 2 brass (trumpet and French horn), 6 reeds, keyboards, and percussion in the pit, there's just no competing with the larger orchestra that would have been used in studio.  Next up was the different narrator in the "Prologue".  The haunting voice and ending vocal sneer at "for who could ever learn to love...a Beast?" was sorely lacking.

The village set
The smaller, simpler sets worked well enough, just not what I was expecting.  The curtain as the castle door was rather flimsy looking given it is suppose to be a fortress, and the town street of three houses/businesses that kept swirling around had a dizzying effect.

tower/balcony during
The inside of the castle had twisted vine type stairs that were interesting since at first glance you weren't sure how it would be used, the stairs were hidden within the twists.  However, these flipped around regularly as well, making it look like they were making the most out of the little they had.  It worked for the Beast's "If I Can't Love Her" solo to close Act One when he climbed the tower inside then the set flipped around and it wasn't that hard to imagine he was outside on a balcony.

various portals during rehearsal including colourful books
In contrast, the second act library scene lost the grandeur of a huge library by having brightly coloured books on portal drapes fly in.  There was only a small shelf of books behind Belle and the Beast during the reading of King Arthur that fit the characteristics of the rest of the sets.

Be Our Guest number
As scenes go "Be Our Guest" was the one that most closely resembled the original I remember, complete with audience showering ticker tape.  What I did miss was Cogsworth calling out "oh no, not the kick line" just before the end.

Emily as Belle
The costumes were impressive, particularly Belle's golden ball gown.  The enchanted objects were pared down slightly which didn't have a negative effect except for Cogsworth.
L: Costume on Broadway
R: Costume similar to tour

The brown velour type material looked a bit tacky, and I think a larger real clock portion could have helped.  However, James May was a great Cogsworth.

Michael as Lumiere
Lumiere's flaming hands used the 'blow air on material with an orange light to create fire' type look (a more technical description I'm sure exists I just don't know what it is).  This could have been more convincing if the colour wasn't quite so orange and if the flame extended further beyond the wick.  While Michael Haller had the candlestick characteristics down, he also added a rather thick French accent making him difficult to understand at times.

Matt as Gaston
I was not disappointed by the vocal talent though.  Matt Farcher as Gaston had the necessary biceps, cleft in his chin (real or drawn in, it was hard to tell) and a glorious voice (my favourite of the voices actually) which made "Me" and "Gaston" some of the highlight numbers.  Of course the dancing in the bar has stuck with me since I saw the original show.  I love the idea of having the mugs act like tap shoes for the hands.  Fantastic choreography!

Dance in the bar (toronto.broadwayworld.com)
Jimmy Larkin as Lefou was very bouncy and I'll guess it was the same actor who gave the enchanted carpet his athletic twists and flips in"Be Our Guest".  I found William A. Martin unconvincing in the role Maurice.  His gray hair and bushy eyebrows looked fake which probably didn't help, but I just didn't buy him as Belle's father.

The lovely Emily as Belle and Dane as the Beast
As for the title characters...Emily Behny was a true beauty in the role of Belle.  Her voice could sound a bit shrill at times, but perhaps that was due to a microphone/amplification issue.  She soared over the final notes in "Home" effortlessly.  There was also an extra song in the second half I hadn't heard before.  After the Beast lets Belle go and she's back at the cottage with her father she sings "A Change In Me".  It was added in 1998 when Toni Braxton played Belle and it stayed in the show.  It shows Belle's character has been changed as well, not just that of the Beast.

Dane as the Beast
And how about that Beast...while I wouldn't perhaps classify Dane Agostinis as your drop dead gorgeous leading man (although he looks more so the part in real life than as the Prince at the end, probably the long haired wig), I enjoyed his voice and portrayal of the Beast.  When he got to the low register in "If I Can't Love Her" I got shivers.  The higher ending of the song didn't come quite as naturally and I'm not sure I completely believed he was tormented at having no hope of loving someone.  He didn't seem devastated enough, but I'll take that rather than having it over acted.

In conclusion I'm glad Dancap had the show stop in Toronto and I'm glad I took the opportunity to see it.  If the rumours I've heard are true that Dancap isn't going to continue next season, their contribution to the Toronto theatre scene will be sorely missed.

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