Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, a beloved Disney movie, and a huge family attraction. On opening night, the Orpheum’s lobby was packed with people about as tall as my hips. Having been enchanted by a production of Beauty and the Beast at the Ordway a few years ago, I walked into this one with high expectations and a low gaze so as not to run anyone over.
The first musical number is an upbeat introduction by the title’s “Beauty”, Belle, to the little town in which she resides. The first thing I noticed was that I could not hear her. Perhaps the lead actress had a cold? As more and more characters’ voices came into play, I came to a different conclusion: there was something very wrong with the sound.
The entire first act sounded as if it was playing on an old-fashioned TV set from across a football field. Had I not already known the plot, it would have been difficult to follow along. Spoken lines were difficult to make out, and during musical numbers, no matter how many voices sang, their volume remained low. In addition to being simply annoying, the faraway tinny tones hosted an audience disconnect from any feelings the actors were attempting to portray.
This production of Beauty and the Beast tries out new humor that differentiates it from the Disney movie–and for the most part falls flat on its face. Act One in particular was riddled with physical pratfalls so painfully choreographed that it looked as though the actors were repeatedly throwing themselves to the ground for no apparent reason. Sexual innuendos were scripted for the adults in the audience, played up to the extent that I found them physically repulsive. Where creative staging could have been invoked, there were instead streamers, flashing lights, human-size bottles of champagne, and other pointers to an enormous budget.
Though overrelied upon, the set design was undeniably impressive, using sheer layers of cloth and images of twisted trees to bring us into a foreboding forest, and a minimal yet multipurposed metallic staircase to represent the Beast’s enchanted castle, among other locations. The costumes seamlessly transformed actors into living, breathing household objects, and brought classic Disney characters to life. Each of the actors’ character physicalizations were distinct and on point, which is especially important if your character is a grumpy grandfather clock or a charismatic French candelabra.
In Act Two, the sound quality and volume was miraculously bettered, allowing the audience closer
proximity to the melodies of Beauty and the Beast. Actors became more energized, additive humor less overtly prevalent. Belle (Jillian Butterfield) and the Beast (Ryan Everett Wood) truly began to fall in love, and their chemistry was charming, genuine and palpable all the way from the back of the theatre.
Unfortunately, Act Two’s recovery does not make up for the easily tuned out Act One. The audio mishap may have been a one-time issue, but if so a one-time issue that should not have been present by opening night. If your child is looking for a healthy dose of magic, bringing them to Beauty and the Beast at the Orpheum may be the right choice. But if you’re looking for a magical time for all ages, simply stay at home and watch the movie instead.