Theater Review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Paper Mill Playhouse

By Jonathan Spira on 12 June 2019
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Singing dishes. Talking candlesticks. Enchanted castles. A witch’s spell. It’s no wonder that the Broadway musical “Beauty and the Beast” was Broadway’s tenth longest-running production and remains popular in tours and regional productions.

The musical, based on the Disney film that is based on the 1740 fairy tale “La Belle et la Bête,” by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, tells the story of an arrogant young prince and his servants who fall under the spell of a wicked enchantress that turns him into a monster (the Beast) until he learns to love and be loved.

In the Paper Mill Playhouse production, which opened last week, director Mark Hoebee, choreographer Alex Sanchez, set designer Kelly James Tighe, and costume designer Leon Dobkowski have recreated on the stage the magic of the 1991 blockbuster Disney film of the same name down to an enchanted rose that sheds its petals as the hope of true love runs low.

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Belinda Allen’s Belle is an ingénue who trades places with her captive father, Maurice, a bumbling and rather eccentric tinkerer, played by Joel Blum, who is held by the Beast (played by a brooding Tally Sessions) after getting lost in the forest whilst taking his invention into town. Meanwhile, Stephen Mark Lukas’ Gaston preens incessantly while imagining himself as the belle of the ball, followed by Lefou (Kevin Curtis), who seems a bit miscast for the role.

As always, the show’s strength is the incredible score by Alan Menken and his partner, Howard Ashman, with songs including “Be Our Guest” and “Belle” that conjure up the music of the golden age of Broadway. The lyrics of the show’s title number – “Tale as old as time, Song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast” – speak of love in a way that few songs do today.

As expected, “Be Our Guest” is the true show-stopper in the first act, displaying the excitement of the household staff of the prince’s castle who are slowly being turned into various and sundry objects – Mrs. Potts (Stacia Fernandez) into a teapot; Lumiere (Gavin Lee, who lights up the stage and clearly channels Jerry Orbach in the song “Be Our Guest”) into a candelabra; Cogsworth (Kevin Ligon) into a clock; Madame de la Grande Bouche (Donna English as the diva trapped in an armoire); and Mrs. Pott’s son, Chip (Gianni David Faruolo alternating with Antonio Watson), who just wants to be a little boy and not a teacup anymore.

Their excitement over Belle’s presence – because she might break the curse should she fall in love with the Beast and counter their reverse anthropomorphic destiny – is palpable.

While the lighting is a little overdone at times, the overall production is fit for the Great White Way and makes the drive to Millburn, N.J., with its quaint shops and restaurants, all worth the effort.

THE DETAILS

Beauty and the Beast
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive
Millburn, N.J. 07041
Runtime: Two hours and 30 min.
www.papermill.org

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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