Be My Guest

I've nearly recovered from having seen a dinner theater production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast in east Mesa last week.

My headache, which began shortly after Anthony Majewski began singing, is almost gone. My stomachache (which wasn't caused by anything I ate, since I skipped the dinner portion of the evening's "entertainment") has at last abated.

It's not just that I'm sick of this "tale as old as time." I've resigned myself to at least annual stagings of Beauty, which appears to have joined the ranks of West Side Story and The Sound of Music as one of those musicals that refuse to die. The tragedy surrounding Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre's production is that there's no camp value to this terrible mess. A rotten production can be a lot of fun if it's earnestly bad, especially when it's a show involving talking candlesticks and a guy in a bear costume who becomes a humpy stud after he's kissed by a line drawing of a virgin.

But this Beauty is just a beast, plodding in its direction and populated by mostly under-talented players who hit bum notes and pull unfunny faces. While Sarah Shahinian's flirty, full-voiced Belle is charming, her boyfriend the Beast (Adam Clough) can't decide if he's a menace or a mensch. For every pre-recorded snarl, he has a bit of cute business, like chasing his own tail or scratching his chin bemusedly. Clough's solos aren't so impressive, either — too bad, because the Beast has the score's best solo in "If I Can't Love Her," which falls way short as sung by Clough.

As much as I'd like to hang the production's failure on one of Beauty's many all-singing, all-dancing household implements (especially that damn clock, Cogsworth, whom I already hated before actor Robby Johnson turned him into an excuse for impersonating Rip Taylor), the trouble here is mostly because of director Marc Robin's cheeseball choices, which amount to a lot of goofy and overused sight gags. (I swore that if Gaston kissed his nonexistent biceps once more, I was going to hurl a serviette at him.) These choices are executed lazily by mostly youngish cast members who often allow their massive costuming to act for them. I guess when you're dressed as a candlestick or a giant armoire, and you're competing with a slice of Key lime pie for your audience's attention, the temptation to slouch is too great to resist.

Would that there was something else great — or even pretty good — about this production. There is not. Bring a stash of Tums and a very young grandchild, if you have one. Otherwise, stay home and rent the video.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela