BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Atlanta Lyric Theatre

BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Atlanta Lyric Theatre
Photo Courtesy of Atlanta Lyric Theatre

The live-action remake of Disney's Beauty and the Beast that opened in March of this year has made over $1 billion at the box office so far. That's nine zeros, which easily makes the film the highest earning movie musical of all time. And if all those gold coins in the studio coffers are any indication, there's something about this story that keeps us coming back. That something - let's call it the promise of a world where deep and meaningful connectedness between two lovers is built on important things like mutual interests and selflessness - is on full display at Atlanta Lyric Theatre in Robert Adams' production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which boasts a stellar cast as well as a buffet of delightful magic.

Disney's beloved musical tells the story of Belle, an odd duck who lives in a world of her own built mostly from her travels through books. When her father, another odd duck, finds himself imprisoned in the enchanted castle of a horrible prince-beast, Belle must set aside her own dreams in order to save her father from a life of imprisonment by trading her own life for his. The castle's enchanted servants, who must live as household objects, recognizing that Beauty might be the girl who can break the spell which will return them to their human forms and their beast to a prince, begin to foster an environment that could make Belle recognize the beauty in the beast before it's too late.

BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Atlanta Lyric Theatre
Photo Courtesy of Atlanta Lyric Theatre

The production is superbly cast. Logan Denninghoff, having played Gaston in the national tour of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, is no stranger to the popular tuner. Here, as Beast, he's the perfect blend of ferocity and charm, and he certainly makes it easy for us to imagine why a girl like Belle might fall for him. In his turn as Gaston, Larry Cox is also sensational. He's far better than Luke Evans, who played the role in the live-action film. Luke Evans managed the smugness well in the film, but his timing wasn't impeccable. On the Atlanta Lyric stage, Larry Cox has, like Evans, built an amply smug and self-assured villain, but he's also a master of comedic timing, so the audience truly gets the perfect jerk. The ensemble of household servants and villagers, led by Atlanta favorite Jeff McKerley, who plays a wickedly funny (and deliciously naughty) Lumiere, are all up to their tasks. The real surprise in this Atlanta Lyric cast is Belle. She's played by Lauren Hill, a sophomore acting student from Brenau University in her first professional production. Hill's Belle is beautifully nuanced, and she sings every familiar note as though it was written especially for her. In truth, she may be the best Belle ever to play the part, and that's not taking any praise away from our favorite Belles of the past. She's simply that good.

And then there's the magic. Interestingly, this production's best magic doesn't come by way of the beast's transformation from prince to beast and back again or from the petals falling from the enchanted rose. That magic is there, and it's fine. Perfectly adequate. The best magic this production has to offer is in the inventive staging and the sure choreography. At one moment, a Salt and Pepper shaker share an intimate dance on a moonlit stage. At another, human wolves shark around the vulnerable beast as they perform a series of skilled acrobatic feats. It all feels fresh and interesting, and with a show this oft-produced, that's pretty darn magical.

If you could see only one production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast in a lifetime, this would be an excellent one to choose. Barring a few distracting set elements that come and go quickly, it's beautifully imagined. There's a moment at the end of the show where Belle leans over her Beast and whispers, "Everything's going to be fine. We're together now." And we believe her. Because, for one lovely moment, shared with this gorgeous company of actors, it all seems so plausible.

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