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GRAND BEND –
The Huron Country Playhouse’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast begins sluggishly, as if stuck in low gear.
But by the time the intermission rolls around — when we see the piece’s signature number, Be Our Guest, sung by a chorus line of dancing cutlery — it’s rocking along at just the right tempo.
This is the kind of show, were it staged in Toronto, that would be called “lavish.”
Brent Thiessen as Gaston steals the musical from his castmates.
His character has a self-esteem problem — too much of the stuff.
He’s the kind of guy who likes to sing about himself in the third person, and has a habit of kissing his own biceps.
I half-expected him to turn to Belle (Danielle Wade) and declare, a la Hans and Franz, “I want to pump you up.”
When Gaston proposes to his would-be wife, he gives the book-loving object of his unwanted affections two options: “Yes!” and “Oh yes!!”
The show gets moving at such a heady pace that the second half goes by in a blink.
You might be wondering if you can take your kids to this show.
I saw it with two busloads of children who I estimate were under 10 years old and I didn’t hear a peep out of them — it managed to hold their attention and fire their young imaginations so completely.
You also might be wondering where it falls in the hierarchy of Disney’s many iterations of Beauty and the Beast. It’s above the recent live-action movie but below the classic animated version.
At its heart, this story is about two oddballs who fall for each other.
Wade is solid as the narrative anchor.
In the first half, she’s passive; things happen to her. In the second act, she drives the plot forward, she’s the mistress of her own destiny.
I just wish the script had made her a tad . . . odder.
What’s great about Tony Edgerton’s take on the Beast is that he makes you forget he’s wearing a mask.
However, it’s Thiessen as the self-professed he-man who gets the bulk of the laughs because he’s so blind to his own nature.
I wonder, though: What do the townspeople get from putting Gaston on a pedestal?
And, at the risk of repeating what a thousand cynics have said troubles them about Beauty and the Beast, I do have to admit to being uneasy with the hint of Stockholm Syndrome.
When the Beast finally releases Belle, she eventually — seemingly voluntarily — finds herself back in his clutches. Er, loving arms.
Is Gaston such a bad guy after all? At least he doesn’t imprison Belle in a castle.
What we need is an even newer version of Beauty and the Beast in which Belle rejects both her suitors and learns to stand on her own two feet without the help of any man.
Oh wait, I’m thinking of Frozen.
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IF YOU GO
What: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, musical fantasy presented by Drayton Entertainment
When: Until Sept. 3
Where: Huron Country Playhouse, 70689 B Line, Grand Bend
Tickets: Tickets are $46 for adults, $27 for youth under 20. Contact the box office at 1-855-372-9866 or visit draytonentertainment.com for tickets, times and packages.
Rating: ***1/2 (out of five)
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