Beauty and the Beast and Forever Plaid

Boston - July 1998

Reviews by John Kenrick

I'm a New Yorker born and bred, and I love my hometown. But I also adore Boston. What a treasure "The Hub" is! The food, the history, the food, the people, the food, the wonderful neighborhoods, the food! I'm a sucker for the clam chowder at Jacob Wirth's, the pizza at Regina's . . . and of course, the aundance of theatre. Everywhere you turn in Boston there are plays, musicals and concerts galore. During a visit to Boston in late July 1998, I caught several performances. As a dedicated fan of Disney's animated masterpiece Beauty and the Beast, I looked forward to seeing the national company of the stage version at The Wang Center. The Wang is as lavish and gigantic as auditorium I've ever laid eyes on. I prefer more intimate houses, but this behemoth is so gorgeous I can't resist it.

When I first saw Beast in previews on Broadway, the cast brought a genuine humanity to the production, balancing its cartoonish qualities so that kids and adults alike could enjoy the show. Oh, how I cheered for the mindless fun of "Be Our Guest" back in 1995! Sadly, the current road version has flushed any sense of humanity down the drain, turning this opulent show into a vulgar side show. In fact, the performance I attended in Boston was a crime

The cast (or their director) opt for repulsively broad comedy. While some may suggest that this helps put the show across to young audiences, they are dead wrong. The sad majesty of the Beast becomes buffoonery here, and the buffoonery of Gaston becomes unfocused idiocy. Bad acting is bad acting, regardless of the audience's age level. An idiotic Gaston cannot be the hateful villain he needs to be by the end of this show. When Gaston fell to his death in Boston, there was not so much as a yawn. Could there be a greater failure for a Disney show than for the death of the villain to register zero?

Some cast members were more to blame than others. Fred Inkley was an appalling Beast, mugging like Milton Berle on speed and ruining his songs with the most painfully squeezed high notes I’ve ever heard from a professional actor. On the other hand, Katie Hugo, understudy for Belle, sang beautifully and made the most of her character's limited range. Tony Lawson’s Gaston was meaningless, as was Jeffrey Schecter's Lefou. The various semi-human servants in the castle were capable, if forgettable. The one exception was Sherry Anderson as Madame Grande Bouche, who was such a standout that her "transformation" to human won a genuine cheer from the audience. As for the boy who played Chip, he was the sort of wooden, sing-song child actor who should used as an example to scare ambitious mothers from pushing no-talent kids into stage careers. Since two kids alternate in the role and nothing indicated which one appeared on my night, I (happily) cannot name this diminutive performer.

When Beauty and the Beast first opened on Broadway, the critic in the New York Times astutely observed that it might not be a great musical, but it certainly was one hell of a tourist attraction. If the production I saw in Boston was any indication, Disney may be losing its knack for keeping tourist attractions from turning into tourist traps.

Forever Plaid

Park Plaza Terrace Room, Boston - July 1998
From the big and clumsy to the small and sleek! Two days after seeing Beauty and the Beast beaten death at the 3,700 seat Wang Center, I enjoyed a delightful production of Forever Plaid in the 250 seat Terrace Room of Boston’s historic Tremont Plaza Hotel. Based on the original New York staging, this production allowed it's cast of local performers to evoke their own charm, and the result was first-rate entertainment.

The four-part harmonies were crisp and every visual gag count scored. The audience quickly warmed up to the show, and the final moments came across with the blend of comedy and pathos that Plaid requires. Half the price of Beauty & the Beast, this Forever Plaid was twice the show! The sad thing was that heavily-hyped Beast is the harder ticket to get. Ain't advertising grand?

SPECIAL NOTE: This show was capably produced and staged by Douglas Trudeau, who also did a nifty job appearing as Frankie. It seems he's been touring Forever Plaid for several years all over the country, as well as appearing in other shows. And here's the real kicker -- he has just opened a year-round dinner theatre in Massachusetts that stages seven musical productions a year! While some actors moan that nobody can have a career in musical theatre anymore, clever folks like this Trudeau fellow are busy building careers anyway. Go Mr. Trudeau!

Actors catching the entrepreneurial spirit? There may be hope for the musical theatre yet!

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