Turning beloved cartoons into flesh and blood is a challenge. Disney does this kind of adaption all the time in stage revues for its theme parks, but for the Broadway-bound “Beauty and the Beast,” which recently opened a tryout run in Houston courtesy of Theater Under the Stars, the company is determined to get into legit in a lavish, serious way, and it has generally succeeded.
The stage show has the instant advantage of the charming and assured score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and Linda Woolverton’s script from the 1991 movie. The great set pieces, such as “Be Our Guest” and Gaston’s self-parodying song, “Gaston,” remain.
The five new songs by Menken and lyricist Tim Rice, who steps into the shoes of the late Ashman, are mostly just poignant time-servers — giving Belle’s father (Tom Bosley) a paternal number, for instance.
But the Menken-Rice collaboration shines in the Beast’s “If I Can’t Love Her.”
At one end, Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes and Stan Meyer’s set give the show plenty of magical gloom and glitter. At the other, “Beauty and the Beast” gets close to a big-budget kiddie show with its overdone glitz and effects.
In translating “Be Our Guest” to the stage, for instance, director Robert Jess Roth delivers too much frantic sparkle and not enough tongue-in-cheek humor.
Terrence Mann is unrecognizable in the matted-maned minotaur get-up, so top-heavy that it has him practically singing into his chest. But he does well physically and emotionally, particularly during “If I Can’t Love Her.”
Gary Beach and Heath Lamberts don’t disappoint as the roguish candlestick or the officious clock, Gosworth. But Burke Moses as Belle’s pompous intended, Gaston, nearly steals the show. However, as with the Beast, the intention seems to be to tone down any darker or more violent aspects. Others, such as Susan Egan as Belle, are fine. Matt West’s choreography is mostly just high-energy filler.