Be Our Guest

20 years later, stage version of Beauty and the Beast retains its magic

20 years later, Beauty and the Beast on stage retains its magic

Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Darick Pead as Beast and Hilary Maiberger as Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Amy Boyle
Cast of Beauty and the Beast
Songs like "Be Our Guest" are just as spectacular on stage as they were in the original animated film. Photo by Amy Boyle
Hilary Maiberger in Beauty and the Beast
Hilary Maiberger is a near sound-alike of Paige O'Hara, who played Belle in the film version. Photo by Joan Marcus
Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Cast of Beauty and the Beast
Hilary Maiberger in Beauty and the Beast

With the proliferation of Broadway productions based on Disney movie musicals, it’s easy to get blasé about them. Both The Lion King and The Little Mermaid came through Dallas in recent months courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, and although they are impressive, neither truly captured the imagination for varying reasons.

Beauty and the Beast, on the other hand, immediately stands out since it’s been 11 years since the last national tour came to town, and 20 years since it debuted on Broadway. The production, playing at Winspear Opera House through April 27, expands upon the original film with longer versions of popular songs and seven new tunes composed specifically for the stage by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.

 Even though the story is familiar, it’s still a pleasure to see how the actors interpret the animated characters.

The story remains the same: A prince (Darick Pead), turned into a beast by a wicked curse, must find someone to love him in his ugly form or live forever in it. His best chance comes when the bookish Belle (Hilary Maiberger) volunteers to be his prisoner after the beast captures her father.

Once in the castle, the only solace Belle can initially find is from the beast’s similarly cursed servants, including Mrs. Potts (Kristin Stewart), Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Robati) and Cogsworth (James May). They do their best to protect her from the beast’s outbursts and hope against hope that the two can find a way into each other’s arms.

Even though the story is familiar, it’s still a pleasure to see how the actors interpret the animated characters. Some, like Tim Rogan as Gaston, go broad to play up the comedy aspects. Others keep things relatively low-key, especially Maiberger, who makes Belle into a completely believable character despite the fantastical premise.

Maiberger, in fact, sounds nearly identical to Paige O’Hara, who played Belle in the movie. This sonic similarity does nothing but enhance her performance throughout, making it even more of a star turn than it already is.

Pead is fine as the Beast, though he seems to lack the physical presence needed for the role. He often comes off best when the beast is forced to act out of character to try to please Belle, evoking peals of laughter from the audience with a high-pitched voice.

 The servants are natural scene-stealers, getting many of the best lines and show-stopping dance numbers.

The servants are natural scene-stealers, getting many of the best lines and show-stopping dance numbers. And despite this ostensibly being a show for children, the relationship between Lumiere and Babette (Stephanie Moskal) could be considered quite risqué, what with Babette’s constantly undulating hips and a mid-show rendezvous that comes close to crossing the line of decency.

Songs like “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” “Something There” and, of course, “Beauty and the Beast” remain as timeless as ever.

The lavish treatment they are given on stage surprisingly comes close to matching the movie scenes, something that’s hard to imagine given the unlimited capacity of animation. But clever staging and tireless dancing by all the performers make each one into a show-stopper.

One of the issues in watching a show like this, however, is that the original six songs are so iconic that the new songs tend to get overlooked. There’s not much to say about songs like “Me” or “Home,” but “Human Again,” another showcase for the servants, and “A Change in Me,” a lovely second-act solo for Belle, do make an impression.

Although the set design for the production is sparse, the choreography in moving each piece on, off and around the stage makes it seems as if there is more to it. For example, the staircases in the Beast’s castle are twirled and repositioned constantly, giving the illusion of spaciousness where none truly exists.

Anyone attending Beauty and the Beast is likely to already be a fan, but even if you weren’t, it’s nearly impossible not to have the show put a smile on your face. The songs, the performances and the sheer showmanship demonstrated throughout keep it as one of those can’t-miss type of musicals.