By Bill Hirschman
There’s a virtue, I suppose, in reliability. When you go to see something with Disney’s name in the title whether it’s the Pirates of Caribbean Ride in Orlando, Anaheim, Toyko or Paris, you know what you’re getting.
So it is with NETworks presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast making what is likely its seventh visit to South Florida, now at the Broward Center for a very short run.
No one complains about seeing Hamlet for the seventh time because each production is markedly different. Disney, though, even with a non-Equity tour like this one, wants the experience to be as dependably replicated as the Pirates’ audio-animatronics ride or McDonald’s Big Mac.
As a result in Disney’s theater outings, every hand gesture and raised eyebrow is choreographed with a photocopied faithfulness that would make the famously demanding Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins squirm. This somehow works when the property is inherently brilliant like the national tour of The Lion King, which still bristles with electricity.
Beauty and the Beast has never been in the same league. That said, and here’s the quote for the publicity machine, this tour of Beauty and the Beast, like all its earlier siblings, remains a thoroughly entertaining evening that will delight first-timers and maybe even those returning with their little Elsas and Belles in tow.
Because every actor has their unique strengths and weaknesses, it’s possible to say that this Beast (Sam Hartley) has more soul and a better facility for the hero’s humorous discomfort in social situations, Belle (Brooke Quintana) has a bit more verve than some others, Gaston (a perfectly adequate Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) does not quite have the heft of earlier versions, LeFou (Matt Dasilva) has a bit more manic vibe in his endless acrobatics which requires that he cannot enter without doing a somersault or last three seconds without falling down.
Further, the first act – which is dominated by Gaston – seems more like a broad cartoon as opposed to an animated film, while the second act is genuinely touching because it is suffused with heart.
A quick shout out to University of Miami alum Ryan D. Phillips as younger, more vibrant Lumiere and Hialeah-native Danny Burgos as the creepy asylum owner Monsieur D’Arque.
You won’t be disappointed if you want to share your previous Beauty and the Beast experience with someone. But I wrote on its first visit in 1998: “The stage version of Beauty and the Beast is an… underrated achievement in theatrical magic, but it sorely lacks emotional magic” compared to the enchantment of the film. That still stands.
Beauty and the Beast plays through June 15-19 from Broadway Across America at the Broward Center For The Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 11:30, and 3:30 p.m. Saturday. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Running time 2 ½ hours with intermission. Tickets are $30-$105. Call (954) 462-0222 for tickets, at www.browardcenter.org
To read an interview with Burgos and Phillips, click here.