Theater review: Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ charms on Miami stage

A BEAUTIFUL BELLE: Jillian Butterfield as Belle enjoys a spectacular moment with the cast of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the Arsht Center.
A BEAUTIFUL BELLE: Jillian Butterfield as Belle enjoys a spectacular moment with the cast of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the Arsht Center. Matthew Murphy

Beauty and the Beast’s origins date to French novelist Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s traditional fairy tale Belle et la Bête in 1756. For a “tale as old as time,” the hardy Disney musical adaptation, based on the studio’s animated 1991 Best Picture Oscar nominee, still has the ability to enchant an audience of children.

And, apparently, plenty of parents or kids at heart, too, as the roar during curtain calls for leads Jillian Butterfield (Belle) and Ryan Everett Wood (Beast) on opening night at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts took on a distinct baritone rumble. The upbeat response from adults suggested the NETworks’ non-union production of the perennial road show has worked out some of the nits and barbs from touring versions at the Arsht in 2010 and Broward Center for the Performing Arts in 2011.

Credit an engaging cast who can pull some honest adult emotions from the Disney Broadway show’s broad humor and cartoon roots. Butterfield is particularly charming. The actress has a clear voice, pretty face, and is inspiring as the resourceful and bookish Belle who stumbles upon the hirsute, cursed Beast. Belle’s love has the power to lift a spell and return the fanged creature to an ordinary-looking prince.

Wood has just the right hint of menace to balance the jokey silliness that sometimes creeps into his role in the second act. Wood’s singing is also poignant and commanding on his showpiece number, If I Can’t Love Her, which closes the first act.

Familiarity robs a bit of the comedic surprise when we meet Beast’s quirky and adorable castle staff — humans turned into household objects including a candelabra, a teapot and teacup, a clock, a feather duster, a cartwheeling carpet, and a dresser given to operatic belting by a sorceress who disdains the Beast’s cruel arrogance. But the actors are game and likable, which lets you overlook the fact that the supposedly French Lumiere (Patrick Pevehouse) often sounds a bit like American comedian Steve Martin.

Fans of the 1994-2007 Broadway version, one of the 10 longest running shows on Broadway, will be happy to note the road show regroups much of its creative team. This group includes director Rob Roth, scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer, costume designer Ann Hould-Ward, illusionist Jim Steinmeyer and lighting designer Natasha Katz.

True, it’s a stripped-down by comparison production — would it kill to spring for a wooden door for Belle’s quarters when the Beast comes knocking? Still, there is effective depth and shadow to Meyer’s pop-up book design, and the explosive pyrotechnics here and there are a rousing touch. The Be Our Guest number, a festive kitchenware extravaganza, remains irresistible entertainment.

Beauty and the Beast might not be great theater but venture once again into Belle’s world of “mystery and adventure and romance and happy endings?” Sure. The kids will be delighted and you might well be grateful that you took up Disney’s invitation for the umpteenth time.

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If you go

What: ‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’ by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Linda Woolverton.

Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 4.

Cost: $26-$110.

Information: 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.