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culture

Can’t Teach an Old Beast New Tricks

Dancap brings Beauty and the Beast to Toronto in a remount that tries to be the mirror image of the previous Disney and Broadway versions. Which is delightful, if you're six.

Emily Behny and Dane Agostinis are the quintessential, if lackluster, Belle and Beast. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Beauty and the Beast
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
July 3–22
Tuesday to Saturday 7:30 p.m., Wednesday and weekend matinees at 2 p.m.
$37–$150

This past April, Aubrey Dan announced that his production company, Dancap, would be finishing its 2012 season and then going on indefinite hiatus. He said there’s a lack of remount-worthy shows coming out of Broadway and the West End for his commercial theatre company to produce—not to mention that Dancap was facing a reported loss of $40 million. The announcement was a surprise, but not necessarily a sad one—because as the latest production of Beauty and the Beast shows, there’s not a whole lot to miss.

Torontoist attended the first preview of Beauty, which unofficially kicks off Dancap’s hat trick grand finale of Beauty and the Beast, Million Dollar Quartet, and another tour of Jersey Boys. It had only a few expected technical hiccups, but still brought out a fair number of twirling toddlers in gowns and tiaras. Most of them probably weren’t around the first time Beauty and the Beast came through Toronto in the mid-’90s, and were thrilled to see the classic fairy tale brought to life on the stage. But for those who know what a big-budget musical should be, it was less than spectacular. In fact, the children’s reactions and get-ups were sometimes more entertaining than the show itself.

Helmed by the same creative team as the original Tony Award–winning Broadway production, the current touring remount does feel like the “ugly stepsister” (sorry, wrong Disney movie). Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes and Stanley A. Meyer’s sets are uneven, sometimes impressive but often coming across like the pieces were bought at the Disney Store (especially a plush-looking magical rose that doesn’t even wilt). Large and fierce-looking wolf puppets add an element of fantasy into this world of castles, enchantresses, and spells, but unfortunately they’re a fleeting trick—and the rest of the staging, notably in the larger show-stopping numbers, feels dated (confetti canons just ain’t what they used to be).

Just as dated, it has to be noted, are those stereotypical gender roles that Disney is so infamous for. Maybe it’s our age and experience that’s altering our view on a beloved childhood story, but this remount seems even more full of hostile, misogynistic, and inappropriate sexual tension than ever. Lumiere’s (Michael Haller) womanizing flirtation with Babette (Jessica Lorion) and the Silly Girls (Brittany Conigatti, Amanda Grace Holt, and Christie Schwartzman) who fawn over Gaston (Matt Farcher) may be intended for comic relief in a misguided tactic to make a children’s show enjoyable for adults. But other Toronto productions, like Mirvish’s War Horse, have demonstrated that a show doesn’t need to be riddled with sex jokes to be enjoyable for the whole family.

However, it’s Haller’s performance alongside James May as Cogsworth and Jen Bechter as the prima-donna vanity inside the enchanted castle that reminds us why the story has lasted so many years. Their banter is a breath of fresh air, as are Dane Agostinis’s more comedic moments as the Beast, which he plays up even more than his roar in the first act. Meanwhile, the rest of the ensemble, including Emily Behny as Belle, William A. Martin as Maurice, and Jimmy Larkin as Lefou, are forgettable.

We were smiling at the happy ending of course, as (spoiler alert) Belle and the Beast joined in matrimony as humans. But we couldn’t help feeling a little like Belle herself. Not infatuated with the man of our dreams, but rather like we were hoping for a little more adventure in our lives.

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