Well, I finally did see Broadway in Chicago's "Beauty and the Beast".
Secret to automatically enjoying any stage production you see in Chicago: see a jr. high do a production of the same show a week or two before, then the professional version will instantly be better.
But, I'm pretty sure I would have loved it anyway. You can read my review of the musical version in general here.
Here's my take on this production: the costumes, sets, special effects, everything was amazing live (especially compared to the jr. high version. Sorry to be hating on jr. high). I thought Nathaniel Hackman as Gaston was especially funny. Lumiere and Cogsworth (Merritt David Janes and Keith Kirkwood) were funny too but hard to understand sometimes.
The musical starts out strong. In the scene when Belle goes to the castle to rescue her father, the Beast was especially scary-more violent and creepy than in the movie. But then, like I said before, Belle's song "Home" is just such a letdown at that point in the plot. The movie Belle's flinging herself across her bed and sobbing is way better. The song is in a major key, guys. Even my students with developmental disabilities know that a song about losing your home, family, and freedom and being at the mercy of an angry, heartless monster should definitely be in minor.
From this point on, the musical becomes more unrealistic. It's largely the way the script is written, and I understand it's for kids and they're trying to lighten things up and everything, but the Beast becomes less of this tortured soul and more of a comic figure as we laugh at his attempts to woo Belle, who ends up being far too cheeky. While bravery is one thing, realism is another.
I still also hate the song "A Change in Me." Pointless words and music, and yet another slow solo when the audience just wants the plot to start wrapping up. At least Elizabeth Shivener does have the pipes for it. (Justin Glazer as Beast had a great voice too. I automatically fall in love with any Beast character so my opinion of him hardly even counts.)
Overall I'm so glad I went, and I'm glad I have this production in my head now to replace the school versions I was in/just saw.