BOOK-BOUND BELLE CHARMS BROODING BEAST
Just when you thought that we could not be more different, along comes a beautifully, rich production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” now playing at Drury Lane Theatre, to provide clear proof that we are really not that different at all. Everyone of us, just like the Beast and his manor full of minions, need a little love before it’s too late and the bloom is off the rose. That includes the sweet and lovely Belle, who spends every waking moment with her face buried in a book, a sort of shield to deflect awkward situations and ward off unwanted advances. It all adds up to a lot of Disney-stylized drama that make this visually-stunning, live-action fairy tale, tick-tock-tick all night long.
“Beauty and the Beast” was Disney’s first Broadway venture almost a quarter of a century ago, which is reason enough to bring a teapot, candle, clock and feather-duster back to life in the surefire holiday hit. Directed at Drury Lane by Alan Souza, with choreography by Ron De Jesus, the musical is an expanded version by the same team responsible for the original 1991 animated film classic — book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.
In case you do not have a family member, or know anyone under thirty-five, to ask, the book-bound heroine Belle (Erica Stephan) charms the brooding Beast (Brandon Contreras) at the center of a love story that challenges us to see people for who they truly are. Belle represents the dreamer in us all, holding in her hands the key to transforming the Beast who has been dwelling in a dark, introspective place for a long time. Words matter to the fearless Belle and Stephan is perfect, delivering gorgeous renditions of “Home” and “A Change In Me.” The magically dark and mysterious Kevin Depinet set, a series of grand staircases and multiple levels framed in the ever-present rose, allows for multiple scenes including a lofty, strategic setting for the commanding Contreras to render the powerful Act I anthem “If I Can’t Love Her.”
On the more sinister side of the tale, the comic foil Gaston (Mark Banik), and his side-kick Lefou (Paul Michael Thompson), slink and slam along in their single-minded pursuit to corner Belle’s affections. As events unfold, Belle’s father Maurice (Mark David Kaplan) stumbles into the manor where a clever cache of spirited souls dwell — Lumiere (Tony Carter), Cogsworth (Nick Cosgrove), Babette (Sierra Schnack), Mrs. Potts (Bri Sudia) and her son Chip (Sophie Ackerman), Madam de la Grande Bouche (Catherine Smitko) and Monsieur D’Argue (Billy Rude). With the curse in place and time growing short, something must be done to break the spell. But they are all intimidated by the Beast and his house rules, that is until Belle arrives to make a bargain for her father’s freedom and give them reason to hope.
The company numbers are terrific — including the opener “Belle,” “Something There,” and the show-stopper “Be Our Guest,” with the enormous talent of Carter, Sudia, Cosgrove and Schnack leading the way. Sudia is everyone’s favorite teapot, providing one of the night’s most memorable moments with a lush and lovely performance of the title song.
The Drury Lane Orchestra is in top form under the direction of Christopher Sargent. Belle’s stunning yellow gown, and all of the marvelously detailed costuming, is the work of designer Ryan Park. With Ryan O’Gara’s lighting and a dizzying array of ingenious properties from designer Cassy Schillo, “Beauty and the Beast” has something for everyone.
DRURY LANE THEATRE
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
through January 27th, 2019
100 Drury Lane
Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181