- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Disneys "Beauty and the Beast" is loaded with special-effects razzmatazz, but one unintended and regrettable effect is how this live-action production manages to feel so two-dimensional.
The Broadway hit, being staged at the Kennedy Center, is a polished and competently done production thats not nearly as sweetly stirring as the 1991 animated feature film on which its based.
This is the tale of Belle, an eccentric inventors daughter who raises eyebrows around her provincial town because she (gasp) loves books. She catches the eye of Gaston, the preening town bully, who wants to marry her because shes the prettiest girl around. Belle finds herself at the castle of the Beast, a prince cursed because of his selfishness and vanity and who is running out of time to lift the curse by finding true love. Will the two fall for each other? You probably can guess the answer.
The songs (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice), with a few unspectacular additions, are as good as ever. The book by Linda Woolverton contains the same sharp writing. Some of the actors deliver entertaining performances. Yet this production has a decidedly cartoonish look and feel to it, a superficiality that the actual cartoon version lacked.
Stanley A. Meyers scenery is garish without being particularly imaginative. The town looks like a collection of gingerbread houses, and the countryside is merely a backdrop. Only the Beasts castle, with its hanging cobwebs and looming columns, hits its gothic mark.
Some of the sound effects (by Jonathan Deans) are reminiscent of a Coyote-Roadrunner short, with each pratfall and every slap enhanced through the sound board. The costumes well, theyre something else, too. Whats done gracefully in animation becomes bulky. In sticking so closely to the way things looked in the movie, Ann Hould-Wards costumes for most of the characters are distracting.
With the carefully re-created hairstyles (by David H. Lawrence) and dresses of the animated film, Danyelle Bossardets Belle certainly looks the part. But she lacks the spitfire spunk to make Belle a really memorable heroine.
The Beast, played by Grant Norman, comes out ahead here: At times hes funny, at other times hes convincingly full of despair. Despite the layers of makeup, Mr. Norman delivers a nuanced performance. Plus, the Beasts glam-rock hairstyle doesnt go to waste — hes got more songs here than in the film.
Edwin Staudenmayer also does an entertaining turn as Gaston, the muscle-headed Lothario whose interest in Belle is like his interest in killing the biggest buck: He wants the best of everything. Its a good physical performance he struts, flexes his muscles, abuses his sidekick and intimidates the townsfolk.
The Beasts castle is inhabited by humans who gradually are becoming inanimate objects: the fussbudgety clock Cogsworth (Ron Bagden); Mrs. Potts (Janet MacEwen), a matronly teapot who dispenses calm wisdom along with her Darjeeling; and Cogsworths foil, Lumiere (Jay Russell), a flirtatious candlestick who sweet-talks les belles femmes.
A libidinous candlestick seemed disarmingly cute in the movie — it had an innocence about it. Watching the rail-thin actor swivel his hips and thrust his pelvis in a form-fitting costume, on the other hand, is kind of creepy.
Director Robert Jess Roth also rushes through critical scenes. When Belle agrees to stay at the castle, for instance, theres no sense of the Beasts cunning self-interest. In the scene in which the two begin to develop feelings for each other, they sit down to eat and Belle lifts her bowl to her lips in a sign she can embrace the Beasts beastly habits. This happens so quickly, though, its hard to tell. Throughout, genuine emotion is sacrificed time and again for the sake of a gag or one-liner.
Disneys "Beauty and the Beast" no doubt will entertain the children. Never straying too far from the original, it nevertheless fails to capture all the movies magic.


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