BWW Review: Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at The Hippodrome

BWW Review: Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at The Hippodrome

The gilded splendor of the Hippodrome Theatre provides the perfect setting for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Disney's lush musical rendition of the classic story. It's a dazzling "tale as old as time" which addresses some timely topics: How do we define beauty? How do we define character? What is on the surface may be one thing. What lies inside a person may be another.

Protagonist Belle (Brooke Quintana) is more interested in books than looks and seeks to see the world outside her village. Beyond the borders of her provincial town, lies a dark forest where a beast (Sam Hartley) lives in a remote castle. When her father, Maurice (Thomas Mothershed), is captured there, Belle offers to take his place. Can Belle overcome her fear and help break the curse placed on the castle? Can the Beast overcome his temperament and learn how to be gentle and kind? Will all be resolved before angry villagers storm the castle and the petals have fallen from the magic rose?

If simplicity is your preference, you may be overwhelmed. The music and lyrics by Alan Mencken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice range from romantic ballads to full-on Broadway extravaganzas. The scenery by Stanley A. Meyer is intricate and ever-changing with styles ranging from French country to Gothic Baroque. The costumes are fancy fairy tale froth with layers of color and ornamentation. The effects are elaborate with shifts of lighting and sound. Occasionally, the orchestral music threatened to drown out the singing, an issue I've noticed in a number of theatrical productions as well as concerts.

The cast is full of charming actors who give heartfelt performances. Quintana is winsome as the lovely heroine who possesses a modern sense of humor and courage. Hartley manages to convey the tragedy of the Beast through the heavy costume while also throwing the occasional tantrum. Some feel these childlike elements detract from the drama. But, perhaps, there is nothing so tragic as a man whose character remains trapped in the immature behavior and the emotional instability of a selfish child.

Mothershed is lovable as the eccentric inventor and supportive single parent. As Gaston, Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek is a swaggering villain with a powerful singing voice. Gaston is so vain that he thinks everything is about him. He even has a fawning sidekick, LeFou, played by Matt DaSilva, with the right mix of Hollywood slapstick and court jester.

The enchanted staff at the Beast's castle are so delightful they deserve a show of their own. Ryan N. Phillips lights up the stage as the dashing, debonair Lumiere. Samuel Shurtleff is perfect as the priggish Cogsworth. Stephanie Gray is like a warm cup of tea as Mrs. Potts. Stephanie Harter Gilmore is appropriately grandiose as Madame de la Grand Bouche. Melissa Jones ruffles just the right amount of feathers as Babette.

Director Rob Roth does a masterful job pulling all these elements together into an engaging production that held the attention of even the youngest audience members. In fact, the opening-night crowd was so enthusiastic they almost burst into song along with the actors.

Kudos to Disney for creating entertainment that appeals to all ages. And for recognizing that the real theme is one of transformation. A heroic challenge changes Belle's ideas of the world. Arrogance transforms the most handsome man in the village to a brute. Fear transforms peaceful villagers into a pitchfork-wielding mob. Patience and kindness transforms those who have lost touch with their humanity back into their real selves. Love changes the beast into a prince and, most importantly, the prince into an honorable and compassionate man.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST runs now through May 15 at the Hippodrome Theatre, located at 12 N. Eutaw St. For tickets, visit Ticketmaster.com, BaltimoreHippodrome.com or call 410-837-7400.

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From This Author Tina Collins

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