Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Toby's in Columbia Invites Everyone to “Be Our Guest.”

The family favorite enchants audiences of all ages.

By: Apr. 09, 2024
Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Toby's in Columbia Invites Everyone to “Be Our Guest.”
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Throw off your everyday concerns, lay aside your gadgets and step into the land of Once Upon A Time. Here you’ll meet a scholarly girl with grand dreams, surrounded by commerce, vanity and arrogance in a small town. But wait! There’s more- an ambitious entrepreneur on a thwarted quest, a spooky forest inhabited by fearsome creatures, an enchanted castle full of amazing wonders: Singing furniture! Dancing tableware! A bad-tempered, shaggy homeowner!  A spell-bound race against time! It’s Beauty and the Beast, book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the stage musical, is based on the Disney animated film of the same name. It’s certainly not the classic French tale of a wealthy merchant, his three daughters, two covetous and one sweet, and the hostage-swap bargain with a wealthy lord of fearsome countenance. Judging from the number of little girls in golden ballgowns and no-one at all dressed as a beast, a teapot or a tavern-keeper, I conclude that Disney’s signature “princess-ification” of La Belle et La Bete appeals to little girls better than the tale’s core message of love and loyalty beyond physical appearances.

In service to an updated plot, the father (who gets a name- it’s Maurice, played by the ineffable Robert Biedermann) becomes an eccentric inventor, while his singular daughter is bookish and disdainful of “provincial life,” craving romance and adventure rather than a rose purloined from a stranger’s garden.

Director Mark Minnick organizes a large cast into a hubbub of motion and sound, and as choreographer also delivers some terrific ensemble dance sequences. The opening number, “Belle,” is an intricate tour through an invisible village, with choreography designed to evoke the chaos of a bustling town square. “Gaston,” set in a tavern, is a rollicking number involving enthusiastic percussion. “Be Our Guest,”  the showstopper of the production, features complicated choreography and a terrific acrobatical magical carpet.

David James is the picture of pomposity as Cogsworth, head of the household and he and Lumiere are nice counterpoints for one another, serving as expository informants, exhibits of enchantment and founts of wisdom for both Belle and Beast by turns.

Playing Lumiere is the brilliantly funny Adam Grabau, whose interchanges with Patricia ‘Pep’ Targete’s delightfully coquettish feather duster, Babbette, is a highlight of the show. His physical business as a candlestick provides a series of laughs, and a well-plotted call-back. MaryKate Brouillet as Madame de la Grande Bouche, entirely obscured by a gigantic costume, is joyfully haughty, but also helpful and in terrific voice. 

Anwar Thomas, fresh from playing Benji in Iron Crow’s RENT, enhances the Ensemble with his excellent voice and watch-worthy stage presence, and brings along RENT castmates Carter Crosby (Roger) and Rachel Cahoon (Maureen) to debut at Toby’s. Carter Crosby’s vocal skills contribute to the richness and depth of the Ensemble, and he blends beautifully.

Vocal powerhouse Rachel Cahoon lands the lead role of Belle, and nails every aspect of the performance. Her big Broadway voice is an excellent match for Justin Calhoun’s, particularly in “Something There,” which might’ve been, but isn’t, a romantic duet. Her impatience with village life somehow avoids being whiny, and her interactions with Robert John Biederman 125 as Belle’s father Maurice are touching and believable. 

Justin Calhoun, playing the titular Beast, is emotive, moody, and vocally splendid. Since his character arc is the crux of the plot, it’s paramount that he be relatable, and he is. He and Rachel Cahoon have great stage chemistry- I hear chuckling in response to their spirited interactions.

Also debuting at Toby’s is Sarah Joyce, who plays one of the silly, smitten townswomen who follow Gaston around, swooning hilariously. Toby’s regulars Alexis Krey-Bedore and Lydia Gifford complete the infatuated trio.  Patrick Gover as Gaston has swashbuckling swagger and arresting biceps. Jeffrey Shankle as Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou, reels dramatically in response to exaggeratedly fake punches, and smoothly leads the tavern number “Gaston” with slapstic and comedic vocals. 

Dylan Iwanczuk, one of three children playing Chip, recently seen as Tommy in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET here at Toby’s, is charming and articulate despite not having much to do. Lynn Sharp-Spears, (recently impressive as Mother Superior in SISTER ACT) plays Mrs. Potts with warm and nurturing ways, and steams very convincingly through some theatrical magic. Her vocals are a delight, particularly during the show’s signature number, “Beauty and the Beast.”

Music director Ross Scott Rawlings, in addition to coaching the cast in flawless vocal numbers, conducts a tiny hidden orchestra. Sarah Soisson and Tony Neenan’s brass additions to Beast’s solo “If I Can’t Love Her” couple nicely with Justin Calhoun’s expressive voice, and I admire the very high soprano of Lynn Sharp-Spears in “Be Our Guest.” Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin’s effects during the Overture and Entre’acte create visual interest, and in-action lighting is moody and evocative, helping to create locations with minimal set pieces. 

Tonight’s themed cocktail, served either alcoholic or non-, is called “The Grey Stuff.” I opted for a Singapore Sling in a souvenir glass, and quite liked it. You can check out the dinner menu and also see Brunch offerings.

If you like Disney’s Beauty And The Beast movie, there’s every reason you should like this live production. Toby’s shows are consistently excellent, and slightly different each performance, a special, magical spectacle, just for you, the audience. Be our guest indeed.

Running time is two and a half hours, including Intermission. 

Current Covid precautions: masks are encouraged but not required. 

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST plays at Toby’s in Columbia   through June 16, 2024; next up is JERSEY BOYS, starting June 21. THE ADAMS FAMILY follows, and Toby’s Will Close its year with THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Phone the box office at 410-730-8311 Sunday & Monday, 10am-8pm, Tues- Sat, 10am-9pm 

Showtimes: Tuesday through Saturday, doors open at 6 PM, Dinner follows shortly, show at 8 Wednesday and Sunday matinees, doors open at 10:30 AM, Brunch follows, show begins at 12:30. Sunday evenings, doors open at 5 for dinner and the show’s at 7:00. Ticket prices range from $60-85, depending which day you choose and how old you are. Parking is free all around the building, and there’s a drop-off spot for mobility-limited members of your party. 

Photo: From L- Adam Grabau and David James as Lumiere and Cogsworth

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Final Factoid:  in 2017, I reviewed Beauty And The Beast at Toby’s and much of that elderly review, including a few members of the cast, still applies. If you’re curious, here it is.


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