Arts & Events
I’ve watched a number of animated feature films lately, and the formula of such rich creations like “Toy Story 3,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and “Up” seems to be that they are enjoyable for the parents and the kids. This is not the case in SHN’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Golden Gate Theater in SF. I was not expecting Cocteau’s surrealistic filmic 1946 version, but neither was I prepared for bad children’s theatre in which everything from the acting to the set is two-dimensional.
The singers have those perfect, dime-a-dozen, trained voices that have no character. The musical theatre thrives on voices with character from Ethel Merman to Bernadette Peters to Kristin Chenoweth, from John Raitt to Mandy Patinkin to Nathan Lane.
There is not a real emotion expressed in the entire musical. Everything is dumbed down in the way kindergarten teachers patronizingly address the kiddies, and the slapstick isn’t even up to the level of the Three Stooges. The choreography is minimal in the closed-in space which the set provides, and except for LeFou’s impressive tumbling, movement is minimal (interesting homoerotic attraction that LeFou displays toward bully he-man Gaston, though).
The scenery is so busy that it’s hard to focus. Three receding portals framing the stage like the drawings in a storybook might have been a great idea on paper, but they are an ornate filigree of acanthus vines and leaves that dwarfs the players. Adding to the eye-swirling effect, at the back of the stage is a multicolored tapestry of hills and dales and fields and trees. Cut-out, reversible little buildings for Belle’s home, the tavern, the bakery, etc., are wheeled out, accentuating the comic-bookishness. The very large stage of the Golden Gate Theatre is thus shrunk to a little space, forcing the 16 players to line up laterally. Did the director ever hear of diagonals and levels? At one point, Gaston stands on a little barrel to change levels. In the castle of the beast, the rococo set pieces with no depth make it even harder to, well, focus.
Now the story is about this intelligent and beautiful woman—in a time when those two attributes did not go together so well—who is threatened from all sides. She has to care for her unbalanced inventor of a father. The local tough guy keeps manhandling her in his attempts to get her consent to marry him while it’s clear he has no intention of giving up his philandering. Then she is held captive by a half-human who might eat her at any time. She takes it all in stride: just another day in the life.
I was not worried for one moment about her safety, and I should have been. That’s the fun of a fairy tale. I still get shaky when I watch the Witch give Snow the apple. The Beast should make us grip the arms of our seats.
The costumes are a hodgepodge of colors as if they were pulled from costume stock by the players themselves. The clock does not look like a clock. It took me a minute to recognize who the tea pot was, but as soon as she started with the bad Cockney accent, I realized that this was a sad excuse for Angela Lansbury.
The lighting was too low in most places until they brought out the big guns in the last two numbers of the first act to hopefully coax everyone back to their seats after the interval.
Thirteen songs (not counting reprises) and thirteen principals, and not so lucky for those who buy a ticket. The only memorable number is the title song, and probably only because Ms. Lansbury added her character to it.
There were a couple of moments of amazing stagecraft with scrims and puppets. The old beggar woman who turns the narcissistic, cruel young prince into The Beast is a puppet that transforms in a flash into a gigantic Enchantress. Belle’s father is attacked in the woods by white wolves which are puppets. It would have been perhaps more creative to do the whole production as a puppet show so that the characters could be of a fitting scale to the tale and the stage.
A friend told me she took her three-year-old to preview night, and her little one sat there rapt. If you can see the world through the eyes of your very young children, you may enjoy this, particularly to see the joy in their eyes. At $30-$99 a pop, it’s asking a lot. It’s a great idea to foster the next generation of theatre-goers by starting them young. But a little meat on the bones of the dramatic moments and not throwing every color on the wheel at the stage might give them an aesthetic that would foster creativity and taste. Seeing the theatre as an alternative to the cartoon rather than a regurgitation of it, and as a place where you can get into depth and emotionally expand the story would be a good lesson, too.
SHN “Best of Broadway” production of
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Golden Gate Theater, 1 Taylor St., SF.
Tue–Sat @ 7:30 pm, Sat & Sun @ 2 pm., Sun 8/22 @ 7:30 pm. Wed 8/25 @ 2 pm through 8/29.
Info/Tickets: (415) 512 7770 or www.shnsf.com
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Directed by Rob Roth, Choreography by Matt West, Music Direction by Alex Lacamoir, Set Design by Stanley A. Meyer, Costume Design by Anne Hould-Ward, Lighting Design by Natasha Katz, Sound Design by John Petrafesa Jr.