If the latest production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” does not hold up all that well, it’s partly because of the casting in this “tale as old as time.”
Actor Jillian Butterfield, who depicts the leading beauty in director Rob Roth’s hectic revival, was off during Tuesday’s opening night performance at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Her voice was flat and unengaging. Her acting also was wanting in a production whose first act had sound problems that made the show seem a touch amateurish.
“Beauty,” based on Disney’s animated movie and featuring music composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, retells a fairy tale that must be the bane of hostage negotiators and psychoanalysts. A young prince dismisses an old crone begging at his gate. She, in turn, casts a spell on him, turning him into a horned, hairy creature with a tail. The Beast is locked away in his castle with other enchanted things and creatures. Only the love of a beautiful woman can save him.
Belle’s father, an inventor named Maurice (Thomas Mothershed), gets lost in the woods one day and, after being attacked by wolves, seeks refuge at the Beast’s palace. But he’s taken hostage instead. Belle offers to trade places with him, and eventually something like love blossoms between the Beast and his female captive.
Roth’s colorful production owes a debt to “Les Misèrables.” Some of his scenes, including ones in which the townspeople go to the castle, recall segments of that Cameron Mackintosh-backed masterwork.
“Beauty” does have a few things to sing about as some of the performers around Butterfield deliver the goods. Ryan Everett Wood invests the Beast with broad range as he goes from angry, uncouth ogre to a besotted man who moves with lightness and felicity. Wood never loses us, and his rendition of “If I Can’t Love Her” closes the first act with affecting emotion and showstopping style.
Cameron Bond’s Gaston also is praiseworthy. A narcissistic meathead who wants to marry the bookish Belle, Gaston is usually played as an Elvis knockoff. But Bond adds a touch of Vanilla Ice to this dimwitted preener.
Tony D’Alelio throws himself zestfully into Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick and faithful wingman. D’Alelio executes his gags with skill.
Jordan Weagraff is a pure delight, for a minute anyway, as the somersaulting Carpet.
And Patrick Pevehouse, who plays the candle-handed Lumière, also can take a long bow. He brings spot-on timing and refreshing wit, not to mention stilt-like height, to this character of light.
Matt West’s choreography lights up “Beauty,” particularly near the end of the first act. But while the production has moments of levity, it often remains earthbound. Perhaps its star will be able to lift it on other nights.