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'Beauty' Enchants This Beast

Theater Review

Disney's Beauty and The Beast
Cadillac Palace, Chicago

As a Broadway in Chicago subscriber, each season brings a few shows I really look forward to seeing and 1-2 others that I probably wouldn't go to if not part of the package. And typically in each season, my enjoyment of at least one show, if not more, turns out to be inverse to my anticipation.

Such was the case with Beauty and the Beast, which I saw last night at the premiere performance of its 2-week run at the Cadillac Palace. Not that I didn't expect it to be good, for I had seen and liked it on a tour through Chicago back in 2001, and almost any show that runs for 13 years on Broadway is usually not awful.

But though I knew some of the music was stellar and the version I'd seen in 2001 had some of the best production numbers I'd ever seen, I didn't know why it was coming to Chicago again, three years after the Beauty and Beast took their final bows on Broadway. Sure, many kids who might like it weren't even born the last time it toured America, but for many adult BIC subscribers, it wasn't the marquee production of a season in which Billy Elliot is playing down the street. 

Well, I would be lying if I said I didn't thoroughly enjoy it, far more than many a show I've more greatly anticipated. Although it was a non-Equity production, meaning no union actors--a cost-cutting measure employed by more tours these days--in terms of vocal timbre and acting performance, I really couldn't tell that the cast didn't include any Broadway veterans. Justin Glaser as the Beast, Liz Shivener as Belle, Nathanial Hackman as Gaston and the rest of the large ensemble were all quite good.

Without being able to cite specifics, I know the production wasn't quite as lavish as when I saw the show in 2001--which was already its 3rd tour--but it was still mighty impressive. The original Broadway director, choreographer and costume designer are participating in this touring production, so the look and feel were first rate throughout. The songs, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, were originally written for Disney's animated movie, but they work very well on-stage. Particularly fun were Gaston, Be Our Guest and Human Again.

Last month, I saw and reviewed 101 Dalmatians, a musical also aimed at children, but not a Disney production. While I surmised it probably was pleasing to small children, it was really a dog for the rest of us. But Disney's Beauty and the Beast should delight not just the kids, but anyone who enjoys musicals with plenty of fun (and a good dose of pun as well).

(Here's a YouTube clip of Be Our Guest from the movie, just to remind you of the quality of the material. If you want to sing along, by all means, be my...)

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