Being mocked for one's looks or unconventional point of view; stirring up crowds against a perceived threat to society — sounds like just another day in contemporary politics. But such edgy little issues are a key part to the hit musical "Beauty and the Beast," which has worthwhile things to say about looking beneath the surface and finding what counts.
A national touring production of the show is back at the Hippodrome Theatre, three years after its last visit. This isn't the freshest imaginable presentation of "Beauty and the Beast" but retains enough charm and smooth stagecraft to make for an entertaining experience.
The now-22-year-old musical, based on the 1991 Disney animated film (Linda Woolverton adapted her screenplay for the theatrical version), neatly delivers the story of a prince turned into a monster and the woman who can redeem him through love. The dialogue retains fairy tale flavor even as it's peppered with puns that might make you smile in spite of yourself.
Everything gets a lift from the music of Alan Menken and the lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice; the score manages the neat trick of being catchy enough to engage young audiences, substantive enough to satisfy older ones.
The touring version still looks cute. Stanley A. Meyer's clever, cartoon-like scenic design allows for fluid action; scenes frequently change with kaleidoscopic effects that provide pretty bursts of color.
As was the case in 2013, this cast doesn't contain members of Actors' Equity Association, the labor union that represents Broadway performers and other professionals (locally, Center Stage, Everyman Theatre and Rep Stage are Equity companies). Not that there's anything wrong with that. Just that non-Equity casts sometimes lack star quality, which is the case here.
Everyone is proficient, but neither the "Beauty" (Brooke Quintana as Belle) nor the "Beast" (Sam Hartley) lights up the stage with a consistently distinctive portrayal.
But there's enough chemistry between the two in the second act, where it is most needed. And Hartley certainly dives into the physical comedy of his role with aplomb. He also sings sturdily and with admirable nuance.
As Gaston, the impossibly vain hunter determined to have Belle for a wife, Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek could use a little more fire, but he delivers some effective funny business.
The supporting players spice things up, especially Ryan N. Phillips as the candelabra Lumiere (you can't go wrong with a Steve Martin-style French accent); Stephanie Gray as Mrs. Potts (she sings the show's tender title tune nicely); and the amusing Stephanie Harter Gilmore as an opera singer-turned-wardrobe.
Directed by Rob Roth, the staging could use pumping up here and there; the dancing, in particular, looks a bit tired. Still, the show's most infectious, feel-good numbers, "Be Our Guest" and "Human Again," are delivered with enough spark to underscore what makes "Beauty and the Beast" a musical worth revisiting.