February 26, 2016 by Bhavya Sharma
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which ran at the Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music Feb. 16-21, can be summarized in one phrase: an exceedingly long tale of how strong women don’t need no frat boys. We are all familiar with the hackneyed plot of this fairytale and also of the moral homely that accompanies it — beauty lies on the inside, and Belle helps Beast find his inner beauty through hers. However, the director, Rob Roth, makes the two-and-a-half-hour long play a feast to the eyes with beautiful sets, vibrant costumes and the exceedingly low necklines of the village “Silly Girls” (actual cast credits in my copy of the “Beauty and the Beast” brochure).
Brooke Quintana is adorable in her role as Belle, and Sam Hartley does a fine job of playing Beast, expressing himself through his body since he is donning an expressionless mask for the majority of his performance. But it is Gaston (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) who, as the titular antagonist, takes the cake with his Johnny-Bravo-like self-importance and no-leg-day policy (Gaston’s biceps were huge; the quads — not so much). I would argue that Gaston started the original frat boy stereotype — he guzzled beer like it was his life motto, he let women admire his muscles as a way of giving back to the community, and he partied like his jam was Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends.” And of course, he tried to woo Belle who was not interested in bad boys like Gaston. (But the Beast, who does treat her badly in the beginning is oh-so-hot because, duh, fur!).
Overall, Disney’s Broadway musical is a feast for the eyes that keeps the audience enthralled with its vibrant colors, if not with its all-too-familiar storyline. The party poppers slung at the audience also kept me awake as I thought if I didn’t duck them, I might lose an eye — all baseless fears since the kids in the front seemed to get hit the hardest. The only thing that irked me about the play, and irks me about musicals in general, is how they inserted songs to stretch time. It took me back to how people break into sick moves at the hint of anything mundane in Bollywood movies. I understand that musicals, by definition, consist of, well, music. But to give almost every major character their own little pine-and-pirouette routine seemed a little overboard in the play. Nevertheless, I could see how the play would be an absolute delight to young children and their parents who want their kids to learn about the importance of leg day. Oh, and the importance of not treating women like objects, a folly Gaston commits too often. The lesson is almost negated by the silly village girls who keep dropping dead at the sight of the lascivious Gaston (one of them kept repeating the fall act some three times). The overdone slapstick humor was appreciated by the kids, and the undertones of sexual innuendos kept the parents guessing how much their kids had learned on the internet already. For example, in one scene, Babette (Melissa Jones) and Lumiere (Ryan Phillips), who have become a feather duster and a candlestick respectively under the enchanted spell, do some heavy flirting, at the end of which Babette asks Lumiere about his “wick.”
Disney’s “The Beauty and the Beast” was definitely a wonderful experience that reminded me of the way Cartoon Network would slip dirty jokes into kids’ shows like “The Powerpuff Girls.” Perhaps, some years from now, all the innocent faces surrounding me would realize the real humor that they had missed out on.