Review: ABC’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ special is sparkly, boring nostalgia

The great Coco Chanel famously said that before you leave the house, you should look at your outfit in the mirror and take off at least one thing. If only ABC would have remembered that when producing its latest televised musical.

“Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration” (Thursday, 8 EST/PST, ★★½ out of four) is the latest network TV musical theater spectacle, along the lines of NBC’s “Annie Live!” or Fox’s “Rent Live!”, although “Beauty” doesn’t even pretend to be live. Like the network’s “Little Mermaid” special in 2019, 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.

It’s a big mishmash of ideas, and if they listened to Chanel’s advice, it would have been a lot smoother of a ride had ABC just chosen one path. The network should have either staged the entire musical or simply re-aired the film with behind-the-scenes clips. I’d lean toward staging an (admittedly expensive, given recent ratings) full production: after all, a Broadway version lasted 13 years.

H.E.R. as Belle in ABC

More:From ‘Hairspray’ to ‘Rent,’ these are the best and worst live TV musicals

Starring 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 hosted by Rita Moreno, the special is good in pieces. It’s always nice to see Moreno or to hear an artist like H.E.R. cover a classic Disney tune. But it gets dull to watch it all put together. Any momentum built by one element skids to a halt when the action suddenly changes from animated to live or vice versa, or we are forced to listen to the cast talk about how much they love the musical and each other. Even commercial breaks feel more natural than that.

Martin Short as Lumiere, Shania Twain as Mrs. Potts, Leo Abelo Perry as Chip and David Alan Grier as Cogsworth in ABC

At the very least, ABC and Disney have learned some lessons from their disastrous 2019 live version of “Mermaid,” which was comical in all the wrong ways. This one doesn’t skimp on the costumes or sets, which are meant to look like storyboard animations. The cast is more uniformly talented and committed than the actors that took on “Mermaid,” 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.

More: ABC’s baffling ‘Little Mermaid Live!’ sunk straight to the bottom of the ocean

If you’re just looking for competently staged versions of classic Alan Menken and Howard Ashman songs, ABC accomplishes this feat. The opening number, “Belle,” gets a literal breath of fresh air, performed outside at Disney Studios in Burbank. “Be Our Guest” makes creative use of puppetry and choreography to bring the famous number to life in a way that looks and feels different than the hundreds of performances that have come before. Menken accompanies Twain on the title song in a sweet moment. And at one point, H.E.R. gets out her signature guitar and sunglasses and simply rocks out.

Josh Groban as the Beast in ABC

But all of those performances will probably be viewable on YouTube after the special airs (or you skip ahead to watch them when the special streams on Disney+ and Hulu starting Friday). Because they’re sandwiched between quite a bit of fluff: A big dazzling disco ball of Disney nostalgia, and terrible jokes about TikTok.

The original film, by the way, is also streaming on Disney+. You’ll find it’s more exciting.

I'm Faye Pearson and I own Q Nails and Spa. I love providing high-quality nail services to my clients and seeing their reactions when they see their new nails. I take pride in my work and always aim to give my clients the best possible service. I opened Q Nails and Spa because I wanted to create a relaxing environment where people could come to escape the stresses of daily life. I believe that a little bit of pampering can go a long way, and I'm happy to be able to offer that to my clients.

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