Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” has been transformed more times than its prince-turned-monster.
Born as an Oscar-winning animated film in 1991, the tale of a selfish prince who must win the love of a plucky young woman became Disney’s first stab at Broadway in 1994. And though critics didn’t love it, audiences didn’t care: “Beauty and the Beast” ran until 2007, chalking up 5,461 performances and earning the company $1.4 billion worldwide to date. No wonder Disney gave its smash the live-action treatment, releasing the still-in-theaters 2017 movie starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast.
Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre is kicking off summer with its own production of “Beauty and the Beast.” Lavishly costumed and beautifully sung, the Dom Ruggiero-staged show keeps fairy tale-loving grownups and all but the littlest kiddies as spellbound as the Beast himself.
Based on the classic French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the musical features a book by screenwriter Linda Woolverton, songs by the late Howard Ashman and Alan Menken from the animated movie, and additional songs by Menken and Tim Rice.
Multiple generations have experienced Disney’s take on this “tale as old as time,” but just in case you’ve managed to avoid it, this “Beauty and the Beast” centers on Belle (Mallory Newbrough), a lovely and brainy misfit living in a little French village in the 18th century, and the Beast (Loren Christopher), a once-handsome prince who now looks like the monster he was all along. If the prince can’t break the curse by earning love before the last petal falls from a enchanted red rose, he will forever remain the Beast, and his jittery household staff – transforming by the day from people into objects – will lose their humanity altogether.
The stage version of “Beauty and the Beast” retains more than a little of the original animated movie’s cartoonish spirit, though it certainly hits the thematic points that lend the story more depth. Among them: Beauty is skin deep. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Celebrate difference. Be your authentic self.
Director Ruggiero has assembled an impressive cast of pros, augmented by a half dozen high school theater students and a couple of younger kids. He, choreographer Angela Morando-Taylor and musical director Eric Alsford blend the actors into a cohesive ensemble, achieving the requisite razzle-dazzle of “Be Our Guest” and the stein-clanking ode to narcissism that is “Gaston.”
As for the principals, Newbrough does her own transforming, from the rock-raspy Janis Joplin she played in the Wick’s “Beehive” into a clarion-voiced version of Disney’s most bookish “princess.” Her Belle is a girl not cowed by men, not by the beefy Gaston (Jacob Thompson), whose one true love will always be himself, and not by the surly Beast, whose commands she courteously defies.
Both Christopher and Thompson have played the Beast before (Thompson more than 300 times), and each performer possesses a rich baritone voice as well as spot-on comic timing. The strapping Thompson is the ultimate hunky lunk, a guy whose ego renders him tone-deaf to Belle’s rejections. Christopher spends nearly the entirety of the show in Beast trappings (think upright water buffalo in fancy clothes), yet he conveys the character’s growing warmth and humor as well as his aching heart, particularly in “If I Can’t Love Her.”
Troy Stanley brings likable eccentricity to Belle’s kooky inventor father, Maurice, and Courter Simmons is a cartoon come to life as Gaston’s chief cheerleader, Lefou. Leigh Green, Sarah Rose and Ashley Rubin play the Gaston-adoring, aptly named Silly Girls, while Tommy Paduano is the ominous Monsieur D’Arque, head of the Maison de Lunes insane asylum.
Over at the castle, Jonathan Van Dyke is the chatty Lumière, a man turning into a candelabra who happens to be besotted with the ooh-la-la French maid (soon to be a feather duster) Babette (Emily Tarallo). The oft-agitated Cogsworth (Kevin Robert Kelly) is trying to keep the castle going as he turns into a clock; the warm-hearted Mrs. Potts (Angie Radosh) is transforming into a teapot as she tries to reassure her boy Chip (Alexa Lasanta), who is (appropriately enough) becoming a teacup. Krystal Bly is Madame de la Grande Bouche, an opera diva turned wardrobe.
Set designer Kelly Tighe provides rustic cottages and spooky sections of the castle with winding stone steps, and projection/motion graphics designer Josieu Jean completes the scenic picture on a stage that isn’t terribly large. Lighting designer Jose Santiago, sound designer Justin Thompson and costume designer Kimberly Wick of Costume World Theatrical make “Beauty and the Beast” the colorful, boisterous musical it needs to be. A live orchestra would have been nice, but that tends not to happen with the Wick’s large-cast musicals.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in its various forms is certainly a familiar family musical. Young ones in the Wick audience sometimes sing along or say lines along with the actors, even with parents shushing them. But even though live theater isn’t the most inexpensive entertainment option, it can be a priceless gift of transformative magic. So it is with the Wick’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Beauty and the Beast” runs through July 9 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Show times are 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday. Tickets cost $85 ($45 for children 12 and younger, only by calling the box office). To order, call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.