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BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Olney Theatre Center

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Olney Theatre Center’s production of Beauty and The Beast features some killer performances and a great concept about how beauty can be seen in many different ways.

BWW Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Olney Theatre Center
L-R Evan Ruggiero and Jade Jones in Olney Theatre Center's production of
Beauty and The Beast.
Photo by Teresa Castracane Photgraphy.

There are certain musical theatre pieces that audiences see on Broadway and believe the version they saw is the only way the material can be interpreted. Beauty and the Beast definitely falls into that category for the sole reason of that once you've seen how Disney produced it originally, it's impossible to see it done in a less spectacular way.

Like many regional theatres across the country, Olney Theatre Center does not have the resources like the company that started with a mouse has. The question now becomes, how do you produce your first big post-pandemic musical less spectacular than the original and still give audiences what they want? Read on and you'll see my fellow readers.

First off, director Marcia Milgrom Dodge has cast this production really well. Some of her directorial choices, not so much.

The character of Belle, the girl from a poor provincial town finally has some spine and some attitude with the knockout, killer, add your own superlative performance of Jade Jones. From the moment she opens her mouth at the top of the show, it's a performance for the ages. Her vocal renditions of "Home" and "A Change in Me" (big ending missing not withstanding) are showstoppers.

Evan Ruggiero as the menacing Beast seems to be giving two different performances. His speaking voice is as deep and scary as you would want it to be. When he sings however his voice changes into someone from Les Misérables. His act one closer If I Can't Love Her is sung with lots of power but the menacing end of things disappears. Ruggiero is a really good performer but I wish Dodge would have kept his performance consistent.

The supporting cast is as strong as the two leads.

Bobby Smith's Lumiere is a true bright spot in the proceedings. Smith is a consummate pro and leads the company in "Be Our Guest" with all of the class that you come to expect from one of the area's favorite performers.

Iyona Blake as Mrs. Potts sings the title song with grace and warmth.

If you only know Sasha Olinick as a dramatic performer than you need to catch his performance as Belle's father Maurice. His duet with Jones called "No Matter What' is a true AWWW moment.

A big shout out goes to Erica Leigh Hansen (going on at my performance for Jessica Lauren Ball) as the wardrobe Madame de la Grande Bouche. She was hilarious!

The first voice you hear in the show is Dame Felicia Curry as the Narrator. That is how you start your show off right people. ALL HAIL!

As good as the cast is, some of the production elements are not as strong.

Narelle Sissons' unit set basically never changes except for actors bringing on and off pieces of furniture and if you are sitting far house left, like I was, you actually miss an effect or two.

Ivania Stack's costumes are wonderful. Her work gives a fresh look at these characters. I loved her slightly more modern look for Belle in particular.

Colin K. Bills creates his usual lighting brilliance. His design goes from bright to scary and every emotion in between.

The nine-piece orchestra under the direction of Walter "Bobby" McCoy plays the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman/Tim Rice score as orchestrated by Danny Troob (with a little extra orchestration help from Olney's musical dynamo Christopher Youstra) with lots of energy while complimenting the singers rather than overpowering.

The glaring problem with this production is bar none the embarrassingly simple and rudimentary choreography by Josh Walden. The big numbers visually are not as big or as grand as they need to be.

Overall, Olney Theatre Center's production of Beauty and The Beast features some killer performances and a great concept about how beauty can be seen in many different ways. By stripping away all the glitz, that message comes roaring through making Beauty and The Beast at Olney Theatre Center succeed despite some "interesting" directorial and design choices.

Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission.

Beauty and The Beast runs through January 2nd, 2022 at Olney Theatre Center which is located at 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd, Olney, MD. For tickets, click here.


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