Touring musicals are expected to be efficient, slimmed-down versions of their Broadway originals to be able to troupe from town to town overnight. But the production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” that kicks off this year’s Theater League season is as lavish as anything you’ll see on stage.
The production fills the Century II stage from top to bottom and end to end, thanks to multiple layers of beautifully painted backdrops and see-through scrims designed by Stanley Meyer. They create the depths of a vine-tangled enchanted forest for a proscenium that merges with the Gothic curves of a Cathedral window and French art nouveau curves as scenes shift from forest to village to castle.
The scenes even break the fourth wall to include the audience a couple of times as celebratory confetti and streamers are fired over the first few rows during rousing finales. With moody, shadowy, blue-green lighting designed by Natasha Katz dotted with orange candle light plus a huge moon and twinkling stars in a pitch-black night sky, the colorful spectacle is often breathtaking.
And then there are the gorgeous, elaborate fairy-tale costumes by Ann Hould-Ward that won the Tony Award on Broadway, from sumptuous ballgowns and royal frock coats to fanciful designs that turn people into enchanted objects like talking candlesticks, clocks and tea pots.
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But, of course, the performances are what make or break the show, and this eager young cast was at the top of their game Tuesday, opening night.
Ryan Everett Wood plays the shaggy Beast with as much homage to Bert Lahr’s comically prissy Cowardly Lion as to Robby Benson’s defensive, emotionally bruised protagonist in Disney’s original 1991 animated movie. Wood, who has toured as the grouchy lead ogre in “Shrek The Musical” (which he recreated in Wichita earlier this year at Crown Uptown) and Woody the cowboy doll in “Toy Story The Musical,” has an empathetic knack for making us feel the inner workings of not-quite-human characters.
And Wood’s baritone, which can boom when needed, is most effective in his hauntingly poignant “If I Can’t Love Her” lament about the fear of losing Belle forever. He gives subtle, moving, dramatic shadings to the ballad; he acts the song rather than merely sings it.
Jillian Butterfield, who has the perfect Disney Princess voice – lovely lilt with big measures of spunky and flirty – is a beautiful charmer as Belle, the book-loving daughter of the town’s eccentric inventor who spends a lot of her time fending off hilariously egregious advances from the local pretty boy/bully, Gaston. Butterfield keeps Belle intelligent, admirable and, when needed, defiant; she is never a victim, even when held hostage.
Belle has the largest number of songs, and Butterfield’s clear soprano captures the right moods, from the charming “Belle” to the wistful “Home” to the romantic “Something There” (with the Beast) and “A Change in Me.”
Cameron Bond is hilarious as the obtuse, self-centered Gaston with a wow of a baritone voice. He’s a strutting hunk who can prance and mince and still make it macho. Patrick Pevehouse is seductively charming and amusing as the shamelessly flirty French candelabra, Lumiere (think: Maurice Chevalier), who is our guide through the show and the able leader of “Be Our Guest.” And Kelly Teal Goyette is a particular joy as the operatic, flighty and giggly Madame de la Grande Bouche (Mrs. Big Mouth).
In a show with a wealth of big numbers – notably the singing, dancing dishes and dinnerware of “Be Our Guest” – one surprise is the precision stein-clicking choreography by Matt West in Gaston’s tavern romp that seems like an Old World way of tap-dancing. Clever and mesmerizing.
If You Go
‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’
What: National tour of 1994 musical based of 1991 Disney animation about looking beyond an ugly surface to find true beauty; first offering of season for Theater League
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
When: Through Thursday at 7:30 p.m.