Beauty and the Beast is a classic story—in the parlance of Mrs. Potts, a “tale as old as time”—but in the production currently on view at the Westchester Broadway Theater, the fairy tale is presented with a refreshingly modern twist courtesy of Disney’s 1991 animated film: it’s the princess (Belle, played by the sweetly voiced Rena Strober) who saves the prince in distress (the Beast, with a haunted, hulking demeanor provided by Joseph Mahowald), while the typical burly alpha-male (Jonathan “Goose” Burgard’s Gaston) is offered as the story’s main villain.
Unfortunately for feminism—but luckily for the audience—the Broadway Theatre’s production is bookended by two superstar men who snatch their scenes away from their heroine. Burgard, with his bulging biceps and booming vocal, is a pitch-perfect Gaston. His bio reveals this is his sixth turn at the role, and it feels as if he’s fine-tuned and perfected his performance along the way. Mahowald’s Beast balances Gaston’s braggadocio with the right blend of vulnerability and ferocity (my viewing companion called the musical a “Battle of the Baritones”). Of course, no one goes to Beauty and the Beast to contemplate the story’s central love triangle. Disney made its mark on Broadway by mounting over-the-top, lavish productions based on its film properties. So while a strong heroine is all well and good, the real draw is the promise of singing and dancing forks, knives, and spoons. Thankfully, the Westchester Broadway Theater delivers on this front, especially in the show-stopping “Be Our Guest” (almost painfully appropriate for dinner theater) and the new-to-the-musical, Busby Berkeley-style “Human Again.” A good-versus-evil fight scene near the end of the show is staged with the kinetic charm and cleverness of old Warner Brothers cartoons, and all of the marauding housewares put in strong character performances.
Though the action takes place in the countryside of France, Beauty and the Beast does have a strong Westchester connection, since resident composer Alan Menken wrote the music for the movie and additional songs from the musical. Even though some of the newer numbers felt like padding and slowed the play to a crawl, the WBT’s production should be a celebrated homecoming. The musical runs through August 2.
Beauty and the Beast
Westchester Broadway Theatre
(914) 592-2222; broadwaytheatre.org