‘Beauty and the Beast’ is indeed family friendly, but that has some drawbacks

After all, it is called, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”
So the musical, which was at The Bushnell May 6 to 11, was bound to show its family friendly roots.
And it did that in spades with broad humor, animation inspired costumes, and brightly colored sets to appeal to the many, many, many children who turned out to see the story of the beautiful and independent Belle and her stubborn— at times, childish— and eventually gallant Beast. And for the parents and adults, it offered the stellar music of Alan Menken and clever lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.
But, at times, this attempt by this production to appeal to the young and old undercut one or the other. This particular direction seemed to offer an a la carte feel to the scenes, with each having its own mood and approach. It gave one the sense that there wasn’t one hand directing and honing the final product.
For instance, I laughed at the clowning around and rubbery faced acting by Jordan Aragon, who played the sidekick Lefou to the loutish Gaston—the town hunk who felt entitled to Belle’s hand in marriage. All the bouncing around by Aragon had me rolling around in giggles, as it did all of the children. And he did a great job. But the tomfoolery seemed pasted on as an afterthought, something to keep the young audience members’ attention.
Hilary Maiberger was stunning as Belle. I loved her voice. Her musical numbers, such as “Home” and “A Change in Me,” were the highlights of the evening. She helped bring out the best in the show’s score. And she seemed to have a great understanding of the strength of Belle.
But, that said, Maiberger’s Belle didn’t fit with the cartoonish, two-dimensional characters directed for the rest of the story. Her character is supposed to be the “fish out of water” in her village, yes. But Maiberger’s performance would have been more appropriate for a straight play rather than the over-the-top cartoonish, go-for-the-laughs-first performances of most of the performers.
Darick Pead, as the Beast, offered some strong dramatic moments such as his performance of “If I Can’t Love Her.” But there were a couple of moments where he broke character, by offering up more contemporary mannerisms, that were somewhat distracting. The audience loved it. But, from the point of view of theatrical performances, it seemed noticeably out of place for the world that was supposed to enfold before us.
Gaston, played by Tim Rogan, also was a delight as the actor successfully mined a performance that was one half-Elvis and, appropriately enough, Cartoon Network character, “Johnny Bravo.”
Of course, this all goes back to the source material. Full-length Disney animation films have always been about appealing to the entire family… with something for the kids, something for the teens, and something for the adults. While beloved, it doesn’t necessarily make for a cohesive piece of art.
As stage shows go, the production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” that I saw on May 6 was worth the price of admission. And it definitely kept my attention.
Yes, it might have been improved with a little theatrical cohesion that could have been accomplished with stronger direction and less pandering to the audience. But that’s the theater critic in me talking.
From the audience’s point of view, judging by the laughter and the smiles around me, and the applause at the end of the night, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” was a definite success and exactly what the people wanted.
I give “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” at The Bushnell on May 6, 2 ½ stars out of 4.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.