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Review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’

John Berger
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Kids love stories that involve adults struggling to learn things or master social skills that are part of their own recent life experiences. That’s one reason NETworks’ production of “Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’” is such perfect children’s entertainment.

The show opened its two-week run in the Blaisdell Concert Hall on Tuesday, and when the kids in the audience were watching the Beast trying to tamp down his temper and speak politely, it was obvious they understood that he was having a hard time trying to say, “please” — and that they could relate.

Later, when Belle was tending the Beast’s wounded paw and warned him “This may hurt a little,” and he responded with a howl and almost went into orbit, the kids’ responses again showed they’d all had similar experiences and felt his pain. This isn’t the first time Honolulu has seen the stage version of this Disney classic — Diamond Head Theatre presented a charming and beautifully staged production of the Disney authorized musical in 2005 — but this one brings Honolulu as close to Broadway as it is possible to get without the expense and tremendous hassle of going there.

From the moment Liz Shivener (Belle) soars into her first big number there’s no question that the production is above and beyond. Good clean sound and a balanced mix is as essential to the success of a musical as the talent of the performers. Shivener and her fellow cast members get the support they need even on the loudest and busiest numbers.

Justin Glaser (Beast) lives up to expectations in all respects. He brings Act I to a stirring and passionate close with “If I Can’t Love Her,” and succeeds elsewhere in effectively conveying mute emotion despite the limitations imposed by his facial make up and fangs.

Nathaniel Hackmann (Gaston) is superb on all counts playing the bombastic and terminally conceited villain of the story — a strong voice, great stage presence, excellent timing and huge biceps are key elements in a memorable performance. Michael Fatica (Lefou) brings deft physicality and a fine command of slapstick to the equally comic role of Gaston’s often-abused sidekick. Hackmann and Fatica were quick favorites on opening night; the kids in the audience in particular responding to their slapstick hijinks in Act I.

Jennifer Elise Davis, Robyn DeGuzman and Jessica Moore add broad comedy as mindless “silly girls” hopelessly infatuated with Gaston.

Merritt David Janes (Lumiere) presides perfectly over a glorious staging of the iconic “Be Our Guest” number that has dancing plates, utensils and other objects filling the stage. Keith Kirkwood (Cogsworth), Erin Elizabeth Coors (Babette) and Sabina Petra (Mrs. Potts) join him as noteworthy members of the enchanted castle’s staff; Petra earns her big showcase number with a satisfying nicely shaded rendition of the title song in Act II.

Several shows on the local stage this season have had talented casts but been notably lacking in other areas; there are no “weak links” in this one. Adults and older teens will appreciate the backdrops that look like illustrations from a book of fairy tales. They’ll also be entertained by the ways the costumed stagehands maneuver the marvelous set pieces to create various sections of the Beast’s castle.

There’s also the meticulously detailed choreography of several expansive musical numbers, the dramatic lighting of other key scenes, and the special effects — the animation of the life-size wolf puppets, for example. Younger kids will get most of the humor — Belle’s verbal exchanges with Gaston, in particular — but there are also a few G-rated jokes they may puzzle over while adults chuckle.

Indeed, yet another thing that makes the show such a best bet as family entertainment is that it entertains kids without resorting to toilet humor or some guy getting hit in the crotch. The darker moments aren’t dark enough to traumatize and everything else in this “tale as old as time” is clean colorful fun for all ages.

Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’
» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall, 777 Ward Ave.
» When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 3
» Cost: $37 to $67 (discounts available)
» Info: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com

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