Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Walnut Street Theatre

A Holiday Present that runs now until December 31, 2023

By: Nov. 30, 2023
Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Walnut Street Theatre

It’s time for a Broadway revival of this classic show, and this theatergoer believes this production is it!

When a “Tale as old as time” is so richly and beautifully packaged in 2023, one can only melt into the lush and stellar production of  Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEASST currently playing at The Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. This reviewer caught the opening night performance of this nine-time Tony Award-nominated masterpiece and was elated to be whisked away to the land of enchantment.

Originally based on a French fairytale, and reimagined with the classic 1991 animated feature film, Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is the timeless tale of finding love and following your dreams. It tells the story of a prince cursed by a magic spell and the bookish Belle who stumbles on his enchanted castle and, with the help of his spellbound servants, helps him break the curse. Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will enchant audiences with a ‘tale as old as time,’ featuring all the classic songs from the animated film, including “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The staged version combines the beloved songs of the animated film with an expanded score and 6 additional songs.

The Walnut’s production features a company of 25 performers and a live orchestra. Glenn Casale, who directed the Walnut’s Mainstage productions of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Disney’s The Little Mermaid, returns to direct. Casale directed the 2012 Dutch production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the national tour, and several regional productions in the States. His work also includes the 1999 Broadway revival of Peter Pan, which received a Tony nomination for Best Revival of a Musical, as well as the National Tour of Peter Pan and the A&E television production. He directed The Property Known as Garland and Dragapella! at Studio 54, which was nominated for a Drama Desk and two Lucille Lortel Awards. Chris Burcheri returns as Music Director, having just completed ELVIS – A Musical Revolution at the Walnut, and Kim Arnett serves as choreographer, making her WST Debut.

Making his Walnut Street Theatre mainstage debut as the cursed and “hideous” Beast Prince is Daniel Wisniewski. Wisniewski, a native of Northeast Philadelphia, did his acting apprenticeship at Walnut Street Theatre in 2018. Wisnieski’s Off-Broadway credits include Romeo and Bernadette and The Imbible: Day Drinking. His regional theatre credits include Men with Money and 1776. Daniel’s powerful performance and rich vocals created a Beast to fear yet still moved the audience with compassion and hope. Also returning to the Walnut, bringing to life the role of the strong, independent, and book-loving Belle is Julia Udine. Udine was last seen on stage at the Walnut in Shrek the Musical. Udine is best known for her four-year stint as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera both on Broadway and in the  25th Anniversary National Tour. She is a Voorhees, NJ native and attended Pennsylvania State University before leaving to join the tour of Phantom at 19 years old. Julia brings a light that shines so brightly to the Walnut Street Theatre stage. Her luscious vocals and command of the stage move the audience as a quintessential Disney princess. 

The dynamic duo of Lumiere and Cogsworth, the Prince’s charming French valet and his excitable English major-domo, were brilliantly played by Dana Orange and Fran Prisco, respectively. Returning as the sweet, kind-hearted head of the kitchen staff and mother to Chip, Mrs. Potts, is Mary Martello, a Walnut favorite with over 30 WST productions to her credit. Mary brought a fresh and moving approach to her depiction of Mrs. Potts, and this theatergoer was delighted with her stellar performance. Walnut veteran Bill Van Horn, who has performed in, written, and directed numerous shows at WST, delights as Belle’s father.

One of the most memorable performances of the evening was Chris Stevens’ magnificent portrayal of  Gaston, the rude and narcissistic hunter vying for Belle’s hand in marriage. Chris Stevens, who has been seen in the Walnut’s productions of Shrek the Musical and South Pacific, is a powerhouse of vocals, stage presence, and timing. This dynamo was so wonderfully complimented with the pairing of Giovanni DiGabriele as Gaston’s fawning friend and sidekick, LeFou. Giovanni’s comic timing, energy, and physical comedy delighted the audiences in every scene he was featured. And one cannot forget the adorable and talented young performers who share the role of Chip, Mrs. Potts’s hopeful young son,  Grant Knudson (weeknights) of Collingswood, NJ and Raphael Sommer (weekends) of Merion Station, PA. and this reviewer must point out that this cast’s ensemble was spont on perfection. Energy, engagement, and stellar vocals, the ensemble didn’t fill the stage, they filled the entire theater (even as a small cast show).

Every technical aspect of the production was so lavish and rich, from the scenic design to the lighting, and the iconic costumes of the piece. Scenic Designer Robert Kovach (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella; Disney’s The Little Mermaid; Shrek the Musical) makes his WST return to capture the enchantment of the French provincial town. Kovach will be joined by returning Lighting Designer Matt Demascolo (Jimmy Buffet’s Escape to Margaritaville; Always...Patsy Cline; Beehive) and Sound Designer Ed Chapman (Elvis – A Musical Revolution; Rocky the Musical; Disney’s The Little Mermaid). Costume Designer Mary Folino (Elvis – A Musical Revolution; Rocky the Musical; Disney’s The Little Mermaid), Wig Designer Carissa Thorlakson (Jimmy Buffet’s Escape to Margaritaville; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), and Makeup Designer Kelsey Brooks will ensure everyone, including the dishes, are ready for you to “Be Our Guest!”.

Give the gift of theater, or create your own holiday magic, by getting your tickets right away, or sharing this brilliant production with your family and friends. The Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is exactly what is needed this holiday season, and the cast and production staff have certainly wrapped it up brilliantly in a shiny package to elate any audience member (and of course any Disney fan as well).

Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST runs through December 31, 2023 which includes holiday performances. Open captioning will be available for the Sunday, December 3, 7pm performance. Season sponsor: PNC Arts Alive. This production is sponsored by Independence Blue Cross, Spark Therapeutics, Fitler Club, and Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld LLC. Season Dining Partner is Buca D’oro Ristorante. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550. Tickets are also available online 24/7 by visiting WalnutStreetTheatre.org or Ticketmaster.com.

 




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