BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Theatre Baton Rouge
Theatre Baton Rouge has enchanted its way into the hearts of audiences once again with their closing production of the 2016-2017 season, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. This talented and energetic cast, directed by Jenny Ballard, takes us through Linda Woolverton's take on the classic Disney tale adapted for the stage. Though it has been over 20 years since the film graced the silver screen, it still possesses the power to enchant young children. And for those young at heart, if the roar during the curtain calls for leads Lauren Smith (Belle) and Jason Breaux (Beast) on opening night was any indication.
As the story goes, a girl named Belle searches to find her place amongst the townsfolk of her poor provincial town, all while evading the advances of the boorish hunter Gaston. When her father is taken prisoner by a monstrous beast, Belle chooses to trade places with her father as a prisoner in the enchanted castle. The story follows the development of the relationship between Belle and the Beast, and what happens when the townsfolk discover his presence on the outskirts of their home.
Overall, TBR's production value was captivating. This production includes some stunning backdrops and smoothly transitioning set pieces, keeping the pace of the show seamless, energized, and dynamic. From sets to costumes, the foundation was established to bring a magical land of dancing house objects and singing furniture to life. But the proper credit goes to a charming cast and their director. With previous credits such as "Mary Poppins" and "The Little Mermaid" under her belt, Ballard is a master at capturing the magic of Disney for the stage. And that same dedication to quality continues with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. With high expectations, this production delivered everything that is charming about the animated film and may have done a better job at it than the recent live action film.
Casting for the show could not have gone better. With previous roles such as Molly in "Peter & the Star Catcher" and Little Red in "Into the Woods," this is not the first role where Smith has performed in a fantastical world, however, her performance as Belle is one that will leave you enamored. With a sweet, silvery voice, Smith captures everything that is perfect about Belle: independent, intelligent, and above all, kind. Some of her most memorable moments on stage range from her evading Gaston's proposal to nursing the Beast back to health after he saves her from a pack of wolves.
Breaux has just the right amount of menace, but what stands out more with his performance is his ability to humanize the beast long before he becomes human again. With a blend of immature hotheadedness and an endearing tenderness, Breaux makes for a compelling character, and his singing is quite poignant. His voice shines on his showpiece number "If I Can't Love Her," which closes the first act.
Nathaniel Hearn is the picturesque version of Gaston; a villain will all love to hate, but also love to look at. With a strong, handsome physique, he oozes an obnoxious machismo. Together with his bumbling sidekick LeFou (hilariously played by Clay Donaldson), they will stop at nothing until Belle agrees to marry Gaston.
Further performance highlights of the show included the comedic banter between the enchanted candelabra Lumiere, (BranDon Guillory) and Cogsworth the talking clock, (Collin Smith). Other select performances to look for include Terry Byars as Maurice, Mary Kannenberg as Madame Bouche, Rachel Lorando as Babette, Erin Woolworth as Mrs. Potts, and the Silly Girls: Libby Judice-Smith, Jamie Dean Carley, and Kaitlin Griffin. Though the biggest standout amongst the household objects goes to the ever-adorable teacup Chip, (Molly Kate Skupien).
With a cast of 30+ actors, this production brought the beloved songs by Alan Menken to life, but it's the choreography that brings it all to life. Choreographer Brad Blanchard enlivened the performance with stunning spectacles such as the rousing bar song "Gaston." Be sure to watch the precise clanking of beer mugs with this ensemble piece. And the magical extravaganza dinner performance that is "Be Our Guest" is a full-on kitchenware cabaret of synchronized dancing dishes and can-caning napkins.
TBR's production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a must see. Be sure to visit Belle's magical world this summer, but hurry, tickets are going quickly.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST runs through June 25.