Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Toby's Enchants Young And Old

By: Apr. 08, 2017
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You may have heard that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is currently running at Toby's Dinner Theatre. Well, it is. Toby's Dinner Theatre is in Columbia, but don't let that scare you. It's easy to get to, though it's as well-concealed as everything else in Columbia.

(Once upon a time in the Sixties, a man named Jim Rouse had an idea to build a city. His idea included multiple villages with adorable names, buried power lines, lots of 'green space,' and no right angles at all. This makes navigating Columbia tricky for an outsider.)

But you have GPS now! Besides, Toby's is just off Route 29, so it's easy. And the lovely folk of Toby's have equipped their website with a handy Directions page to help you find the parking-equipped theatre.

Here's the thing you need to know: if you already like the Disney version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, you absolutely will like this production. If you LOVE Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, there's not a single reason you wouldn't like the show at Toby's. You don't need details, you just need tickets. Go. Skip to the bottom of this review and click the link to do that, because they're selling rapidly.

You may be on the fence, though. It's a fun production. There's a lot to love about it. Dinner is tasty. Everyone at Toby's is unfailingly polite, cheerful, helpful and speedy, including each member of the actor/wait staff. The productions are done with attention to detail and the actors are well cast. That combination of elements is rare in ANY public forum these days, so all credit to the management for creating this wonderful environment. If you enjoy dinner theatre, you will be pleased.

Now, I have ideological issues with Disney's remix of Beauty And The Beast. Of course Disnification is a given, but it irks me particularly with this one, as I love the classic story of a sad, hideous creature who conceals himself from the world but provides excellent hospitality. He only becomes enraged when Beauty's father, beneficiary of the Beast's kindness, picks roses from his precious garden. Horticulturists will understand. All of this is by way of an explanation that every single issue I have with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is an issue with the script of the show. The production of the show is exquisite and marvellous in every aspect.

Every single interaction I have with any Toby's representative: box office, bus people, management, actors; is overwhelmingly positive, and Toby's Dinner Theatre is to be congratulated for exemplary customer service. The lobby quilts, mementos of shows past, are unique in the theatre universe. It's a very welcoming environment.

The food at Toby's is, as usual, delicious and plentiful. Some of the dishes have cute show-themed names, and I'm pleased to note that they are not the same dishes from SHOWBOAT with new names, but in fact are different dishes. The special Toby's signature show drink, "The Grey Stuff," topped with chocolate mousse and a sugar rose, is beautiful and not as cloying as it could've been; however, one of them is plenty. My tablemates agree.

Given that producing anything at all written for proscenium presentation "in the round" is a challenge, and one with multiple locations moreso, all admiration for the set design of David Hopkins. All around the room are panels that transform from showing little houses in a village to portraits in a hallway and so on. The "forest" is particularly clever and I'm pleased to see it every time it appears. Sightlines are generally good, though of course it's tricky to have a perfect angle for every sequence, but it's easier when fellow theatre-goers are cognizant of a shared experience and don't sit lined up directly in front of other audience members. Lynn Joslin's lighting is on target, effective and, in the instance of those versatile panels, crucial to the production. Sound designer Corey Brown's cues were spot on, and there were many of them. They were all perfectly timed, at a volume that matched the dialogue and singing, so they didn't stick out as SFX, which they might've in less capable hands.

Props and costumes are full of the gleeful spirit of a child's coloring book, all curlicues and gold paint, long strings of sausage links and a stack of Bartholomew Cubbins hats. The costuming, very well done by Lawrence Munsey, holds many surprises, and I am amused at the transformation of several of them during the course of the show, as the enchanted people become more and more objectified, notably the delightful Elizabeth Rayca as that feathery minx, Babette. The actors handle some potentially unwieldy wearable art pieces with grace and skill: David James is stiffly mechanical as Cogswell the clock, Lynn Sharp-Spears is smooth as Mrs. Potts the teapot, and the always-engaging Ms. Jane Boyle as Madame de la Grande Bouche, a wardrobe. Some dancing ladies in the Be Our Guest number mystify me for a number of minutes, and I study them carefully, finally categorizing them as linens. Watch for the appearance of an impressive chandelier. There is no separate wig designer credited, but whoever did them deserves major props.

Director/choreographer Mark Minnick creates action that is lively and fun, without being improbable or weird. An acrobatic rug, played by A. J. Whittenberger, performs some well-executed tumbling moves. The tavern sequence is complicated, energetically done and noisy.

Scenic changes are accomplished surprisingly rapidly. We move from one scene to the next very swiftly, despite a potentially cumbersome assemblage of set pieces, props and large costumes. They exist in such abundance that they nearly fill the foyer of the theatre, as we see during intermission while awaiting use of the washroom.

A few of the musical numbers fail to move the plot (I'm looking at you, No Matter What), but each is nicely done, so they're forgiven for being irrelevant.

A miniature live orchestra provides the music, seamless and smooth in the hands of Conductor/Musical Director/Keyboard artist Ross Scott Rawlings. A second keyboard is played by Ann Prizzi, on trumpet is Mike Barber, Andrew Houde plays the French Horn, Reeds/Woodwinds are thanks to the lungs of Steve Haaser, and on Percussion is Lucky Marina. I spot them, just, tucked into a tiny balconette above the entranceway of the theatre and imagine that everyone is close friends, uses excellent deodorant or both.

As is the custom, the Acting Company comprises the wait staff. Our server, Rebecca Vanover, is listed in the program as "Understudy," which is an often thankless role: all the work, all the rehearsals, none of the glory. Still, she said, she'd gone on twice already. Mark Minnick has chosen a stellar cast. Russell Sunday as the Beast is not only a wonderful vocalist but has excellent comic timing. Antagonistic sidekick Lefou, played by Jeffrey Shankle, is appropriately scraping, sufficiently whiny and wonderful at taking stage punches, which are plentiful. As the three silly girls who follow the attractive but morally bankrupt Gaston, MaryKate Brouillet, Samantha McEwen Deininger and Julia Lancione are splendiferously garbed, perfectly pouty and sincerely snicker-worthy. Playing Gaston, extraordinarily attractive David Jennings manages to not quite twirl his non-existent moustache, and is clearly having All Of The Fun. It's a joy to watch an actor relish a role so very thoroughly. Show-stealer status belongs, however, to Jeremy Scott Blaustein as the posh and posturing Lumiere. His physicality is delightful to behold and even when he's bitchy he's adorable.

In addition to the impressive pipes of the aforementioned Ms. Boyle, praise goes to Lynn Sharp-Spears as Mrs. Potts: I had feared I'd miss Angela Lansbury (whom I've loved since Bedknobs and Broomsticks) but Sharp-Spears has such a warm, rich voice that she makes every line and particularly the show's eponymous song all her very own. As the show's anchor character, Belle, I cannot imagine a more perfect embodiment, in confident, graceful presence, sensitive scenework, and especially when singing, than the lovely Nicki Elledge. She is every bit the epitome of a Disney princess, and I absolutely do mean that in a good way.

A special treat as we exit are characters from the show, signing autographs (applause to Mr. Sunday) and posing for photos and selfies with delighted audience members. Particularly enchanted are the young ones, of which there were many, representing the next generation of theater fans. An excellent night, overall: do "be our guest" at Toby's Dinner Theatre; you'll have a beastly good time.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST runs at Toby's Dinner Theatre through June 11.

For tickets, call 410-730-8311.

Tuesday- Saturday Doors: 6:00pm, Buffet 6:00-7:20pm, Show 8:00pm

Wednesday Matinee & Sunday Brunch:

Doors 10:30am, Buffet 10:30-11:50am, Show 12:30pm

Sunday Evening Doors 5:00pm, Buffet 5:00-6:20pm, show 7:00pm

Monday: Dark

Tickets are ~$60 for adults, depending which date you choose; children aged 12 and under are $43.50 at every performance.

5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044

410-730-8311; 1-800-88-TOBYS (1-800-888-6297)

The rest of the Toby's 2017 season is Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, June - August; Dreamgirls, August - November; and Miracle on 34th Street, November - early January.

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell

Pictured, L to R: Nicki Elledge, Russell Sunday; background L to R, David James, Jeremy Scott Blaustein


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