Disney's Beauty And The Beast

Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Bill Millerd. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until January 15

I grinned like an idiot throughout the whole thing. Both grinned and idiot are crucial words here. I really did have a swell time-this production is dazzlingly handsome and all of the major roles are fantastically well performed-but the content is relentlessly commercial.

In this version of the story, which is based on the 1991 animated film, a pretty young woman named Belle is shunned by most of the people in her provincial town because she is bookish. A sexist, narcissistic stud named Gaston wants to marry her but she won't have it. So there's a feminist angle, but it's so rudimentary that it can barely claim to be progressive.

Belle ends up trapped in the Beast's castle. He's a prince who has been put under a spell by an enchantress because he judged people by their appearances. His servants are turning into objects: a candlestick, a clock, a teapot, and so on. The only way to break the spell is for the Beast to love someone and for that someone to love him back. When that happens, both he and Belle turn out to be handsome, which is annoying. I prefer Shrek, in which the homely stay homely and are still worthy.

Beauty and the Beast is art as commerce, a colourful, mindless Disney experience. But hey, the Arts Club does a fine job of it and the kids in your life will love it.

Jonathan Winsby is spectacular as the pumped-up pinhead Gaston. His baritone voice is as warm as it is big, and he delivers a hilariously over-the-top characterization of the swaggering buffoon. Amy Wallis makes a perfect Belle. She's in fine voice and has Belle's ultrasensible delivery down pat. Warren Kimmel, who plays the Beast, does a stellar job as well. Before being tamed by love, he clambers around the furniture like a giant cat, and Kimmel's interpretations of the Beast's songs are beautifully modulated.

The depth of talent goes all the way through the cast. Matt Palmer does the wittiest and best work I've seen from him as Lumií¨re, the worldly candelabra. And Shawn Macdonald gives an impeccably timed performance as Cogsworth, the clock.

It's amazing-and a bit overwhelming-how big a set Alison Green has managed to cram onto the Stanley Theatre's shallow stage. Using a revolve, she accommodates a storybook French village, a cavernous hunting lodge, and an enchanted castle complete with multiple stone staircases. It's gorgeous, but sit a few rows back or you'll break your neck trying to take it all in. The stage crew that makes the changes smooth deserves a curtain call of its own.

Rebekka Sorensen's costumes are also stunning and filled with detail: the Beast's horned, fanged mask; Belle's princesslike ball gown; the round, stiff, decorated skirt that turns the housekeeper, Mrs. Potts, into a teapot.

Musically, the show isn't very interesting, although it does include a few memorable songs, which director Bill Millerd and choreographer Valerie Easton stage with gusto.

The Arts Club has obviously invested a lot of money in this show and will probably see a good return on it. As a reward for technical excellence, that seems fair. The only disturbing thing is that making money while providing mindless distraction seems such a large part of the agenda. Family entertainment can be so much smarter than this.