BWW Review: Susan Egan Returns Triumphantly to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Without question, "Tale as old as time" fits the message of Beauty and the Beast, a story of true love, the most difficult to encounter. And once it's found, will it endure? Disney's adaptation of the fairy tale with its sweepingly imaginative spectacle won over even the hardest of hearts. The animated film was such a tremendous hit in 1991 that it was adapted for the stage in 1994 with new songs by Tim Rice added to the Academy Award-winning movie score by deceased Howard Ashman. It ran worldwide until 2007 and proves undoubtedly that fairy tales retain a popularity that never dies... and that the story translates beautifully to the stage with vibrant actors recreating all the animated figures.. This new production by 5-Star Theatricals of Beauty and the Beast is as beautiful as ever.
First and foremost what makes this presentation extra special is that the original Broadway star Susan Egan who played Belle is essaying the role once more. Sadly, Gary Beach who played Lumiere in the original passed away this week and 5-Star Theatricals' new artistic director Patrick Cassidy honored him by stating before the show that the entire run of this production through July 29 only is a tribute to his memory.
Director Yvette Lawrence and choreographer Cheryl Baxter. keep the action flowing from moment to moment throughout and are supported by an exceptionally adept cast. Egan's oddly spirited Belle 25 years later is still perfection, as she portrays the self-educated provincial girl who understands what it means to be different. Shunned by others because of her solitary preoccupation with books, she is more wise and caring than most girls her age. Egan is so real and possessing such a lovely singing voice that she wins our hearts the moment she steps onstage. Jason Chacon as the Beast is equally blessed with a wonderful vocal range and carries out the strenuous physicality of the role with tremendous fortitude. His transition from monster to gentleman is quite remarkable. Equally physical and vocally adept is Adam Hollick as Gaston, the comically cartoonish bully who proves the real beast of the evening. Hollick''s sense of egomania is delicious to watch as he flexes his biceps to the max.
Comical characters captivate us in all Disney productions and none more so than the varied over-the-top characters of all shapes and sizes. Marc Ginsburg glows as the candle Lumiere, knocking about with a singular French accent and stealing every pun with panache. Also wonderful are Gregory North as Cogsworth the clock, Justin Charles Cowden as Lefou, Gaston's foolish sidekick, whose pratfalls come repeatedly. David Gilchrist is lovable as Maurice, Belle's caring inventor father; Sarah Marie (stepping in for Tracy Ray Reynolds) is the reliable Mrs. Potts, the teapot who sings the title song so beautifully. Devon Davidson makes Babette a siren of the highest order, and Nandani Sinha as Madame de la Grande Bouche, a uniquely hilarious chest of drawers, stands apart with her operatic tones and beyond silly delivery. On the down side, her accent is just a little too thick at times. Luke Pryor makes an adorable Chip, and William Carmichael completes the odd assortment of the beast's crew as Monsieur D'Arque.
The excellent sets are from Front Row Theatrical Rental, and costumes by Beth Glasner are a feast for the eyes, particularly the gowns for Belle and the elaborate design for the eccentric servants. Lighting design by Jose Santiago and sound by Jonathan Burke add much color to the story. Congrats also to musical director/conductor Dan Redfeld and his full orchestra for their superior execution of the score. Tim Rice's song "If I Can't Love Her" sung by the Beast as the Act I finale is my favorite. Perhaps the most heartbreaking number in the show, it expresses the intense agony he feels at not being human and more urgently, not being loved. Also engaging is Belle's second act "A Change In Me".
It doesn't really take as much strength to defeat an enemy as it does to win him over. Hate is easy; love is the hardest act to follow. Watching Belle work her magic on the Beast and experiencing his refinement make Disney's Beauty and the Beast sheer enchantment for children of all ages.
5-Star Theatricals may be intensely proud of their fine achievement. Actors and behind.the.scenes crew are working beautifully in tandem, a fact that will make audiences sit up and take notice, as the future holds so much promise for this theatrical group.
(photo credit: Ed Krieger)