Coco Chanel famously said that before leaving the house, you should check your outfit in the mirror and remove at least one item. If only ABC had kept that in mind when creating its latest televised musical.
“Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration” (Thursday, 8 EST/PST, 12 out of four) is the latest network TV musical theatre extravaganza, following in the footsteps of NBC’s “Annie Live!” and Fox’s “Rent Live!”, though “Beauty” doesn’t even pretend to be live. It’s a mix of prerecorded stagings of songs from the beloved animated classic, actual scenes from the 1991 animated film, and behind-the-scenes interviews about the production, similar to the network’s “Little Mermaid” special in 2019.
It’s a jumble of ideas, and if they had followed Chanel’s advice, it would have been a much smoother ride if ABC had just taken one path. The network should either have staged the entire musical or simply re-aired the film with behind-the-scenes footage. After all, a Broadway version lasted 13 years, so I’d lean toward staging a full (albeit expensive, given recent ratings) production. The special stars Josh Groban as the Beast, H.E.R. as Belle, Martin Short as Lumiere, Shania Twain as Mrs. Potts, Joshua Henry as Gaston, David Alan Grier as Cogsworth, and is hosted by Rita Moreno. It’s always nice to see Moreno or hear an artist cover a classic Disney song, such as H.E.R. However, watching it all come together becomes tedious. Any momentum gained by one element is lost when the action shifts from animated to live, or vice versa, or when we are forced to listen to the cast discuss how much they love the musical and each other. Even commercial breaks appear more natural.
At the very least, ABC and Disney have learned from their disastrous 2019 live version of “The Little Mermaid,” which was hilarious in all the wrong ways. The costumes and sets, which are meant to look like storyboard animations, are lavish. The cast is more talented and committed than the “Mermaid” cast, and they all seem better suited to their roles (and are better singers) than the cast of the 2017 live-action “Beast” film starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.
If all you want is competently staged versions of classic Alan Menken and Howard Ashman songs, ABC delivers. “Belle,” the opening number, gets a literal breath of fresh air when it is performed outside at Disney Studios in Burbank. “Be Our Guest” uses puppetry and choreography to bring the famous song to life in a way that looks and feels different from the hundreds of previous performances. In a sweet moment, Menken joins Twain on the title song. H.E.R. then pulls out her signature guitar and sunglasses and simply rocks out.
However, all of those performances will most likely be available on YouTube after the special airs (or you can watch them when the special streams on Disney+ on Friday). Because they’re sandwiched between a lot of filler: A big dazzling disco ball of Disney nostalgia, with terrible TikTok jokes.