The finale of Zach Theatre’s 2017-18 mainstage season is its splashiest show yet, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” This stage adaptation of the 1991 Disney animated classic (the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for best picture) has always been a bold, flashy venture; when it debuted on Broadway in 1994, Disney’s investment in Broadway was the cornerstone of a campaign to revitalize (and sanitize) New York City.
Zach’s new production is completely in line with the level of bombast — and expense! — that was a part of the musical’s initial staging. Every element of the show, from Court Watson’s epic, mutable scenery, to Susan Branch Towne’s playful costumes, to Michelle Habeck’s sumptuously muted lighting, comes from a place of artists given a budget with which to run free.
Fortunately, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is not just a display of flash; it’s also quite fun. The epic, large-scale production impresses with visual splendor and also creates a family-friendly atmosphere that is sure to delight children while still engaging grown-ups.
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The story of the play follows Disney’s version of the classic fable, and as such it maintains a lot of the movie’s questionable politics, particularly when it comes to the Stockholm Syndrome-like relationship between Belle and the Beast and the class dynamics of the Beast’s relationship to his magically transformed servants (“Life is so unnerving to a servant who’s not serving” might just be the most insidious lyric ever to be found in a children’s movie). Like the movie, though, the play completely evades interrogating these questions; its story is entirely a surface-level one, without much nuance or depth.
The purpose of this production, though, is not to provide emotional realism. Rather, it is intended to be family-friendly fun, and at that it more than succeeds. The beatific singing of Briana Brooks as Belle and Alexander Mendoza as the Beast carries the main love story, while the comedic antics of the household servants-turned-objects (especially the rascally charming Martin Burke as Lumiere) and of the smugly villainous Gaston (Matthew Redden) and his sidekick LeFou (Kevin Pellicone) provide plenty of laughs and charm.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is a staggering display of the kind of spectacle that can be accomplished on a large budget, and it’s at that type of spectacle that both Disney and Zach Theatre excel. The production serves as a fun time for grown-ups and (perhaps more importantly) as a first introduction to the magic of the theater for children.
‘DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 2
Where: 202 S. Lamar Blvd.