The following review is based on the July 20th performance of “Beauty and the Beast,” when Sarah Marie played the role of Mrs. Potts in place of Tracy Ray Reynolds.
More than just being a tale as old as time, “Beauty and the Beast” has become an auspicious production for Susan Egan, who originated Belle on Broadway in 1994, earning a well-deserved Tony nomination. As a 24-year-old, Egan sparkled as an effervescent romantic lead with a flair for comedy. Now, at 48, Egan has picked up right where she left off, not having missed a step in 5-Star Theatricals’ version of the musical, which runs only through July 29th at the Fred Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks, CA.
The story of a beast (formerly a prince), who redeems himself with the love of the strong-willed village ingénue, Belle, and thus extinguishes the curse put upon him and his castle by an Enchantress, is a story that first entered the public consciousness in 1740. French writer Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve wrote the fairy-tale fantasy “La belle et la bête,” though it wasn’t until Disney’s animated adaptation in 1991, and most recently the live-action film last year, that it has garnered the popularity it has.
Evocative enough for the imaginations of children, and poignant enough for adults, Linda Woolverton’s book, as well as Alan Menken’s iconic score, and Howard Ashman & Tim Rice’s meaningful lyrics, are on magnificent display in this rendition. Director Yvette Lawrence has brought the best out of her performers, who can be taken seriously because they shy away from the tendency to overact in this make-believe masterpiece when it would be facile to do so. Additionally, Cheryl Baxter offers a choreography that is always breathlessly vivacious, Beth Glasner’s costumes are intricately stunning, Alex Choate’s props are magical, and musical director/conductor Dan Redfeld and his 19-person orchestra keep the audience entranced by ensuring that the tunes, like “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” and the title number, are never devoid of their purpose and poise.
Susan Egan has not only defied expectations with her portrayal of Belle, but she also brings a refreshing maturity to the role that raises the dramatic stakes when she interacts with her onstage father Maurice (David Gilchrist), Gaston (Adam Hollick), and the Beast (Jason Chacon). Egan is light on her feet and sings with an astoundingly lovely tone that shimmers and lilts with sincerity and virtuousness, especially during more underrated numbers such as “Home” and “A Change in Me.”
David Gilchrist surprises with a heartwarming performance that is superbly naturalistic and genuine. His Maurice is respectable, kind, and sympathetic without being helpless, but rather just in need of a helping hand. Gilchrist’s duet with Egan during “No Matter What” is a significant piece, as it touchingly ingratiates their characters to us, and thereby makes us deeply care about the events that later transpire around them.
As the misunderstood, isolated, and beleaguered Beast, Jason Chacon is an absolute revelation, emoting with a roaring intensity and somberness that comes through his mask. It is an affecting performance as he can be terrifying at times, yet lovable and funny – particularly when Egan’s Belle reads “King Arthur” to him in his library toward the beginning of Act II. And while Chacon has a little electronic assistance at points to make his voice deeper, most of the bellowing vocal characterizations are his. Not to mention, Chacon’s baritenor voice is also thunderous, underscored by a distinct melancholy that reverberates with the hearts of attendees, most notably when he bares his downtrodden soul during “If I Can’t Love Her,” hitting a high and sustained note at the end of the final lyric, “Let the world be done with me.”
As the self-absorbed and macho Gaston, Adam Hollick is not only better than his animated counterpart, but even surpasses Luke Evans’ take on the character. Flanked by his obsequious and often abused sidekick Lefou (played with slapstick skill by Justin Cowden), Hollick’s charisma is off the charts as the perfect love-to-hate personality, his arms flexing and his voice booming with bluster and bravado. Hollick, furthermore, is terrific at using non-verbals to get across his character’s conceitedness, so much so that his preposterously amusing poses earn applause from the appreciative audience. From a vocal standpoint, even while he has Egan’s Belle in an endearing headlock amid “Me,” or is clinking tin cups in fantastic choreographic harmony with the ensemble during his eponymous song (“Gaston”), Hollick’s timbre fires out like a mellifluous cannon in what is a visual and aural rhapsody.
Of course, there are the surreal and timeless characters, who, as household objects, pay the penance as collateral punishment in the Beast’s castle (the set for this looks formidable and immersive). The first is Marc Ginsburg’s Lumière, who, with candlesticks as arms, and a charming French accent to match, is delightfully memorable when he shares barbs with Cogsworth (Gregory North) or flirting with the alluring Babette (played with a great spiritedness by Devon Davidson). Ginsburg has the audience’s rapt attention in the palm of his wick, as almost like an emcee of the proceedings, with an engagingness that connects at the back of the auditorium. He is at the forefront of the crowd-pleasing “Be Our Guest,” which dazzles with dancing cutlery and condiments, featuring flips and kicks, along with a revolving procession of other Enchanted Objects.
Gregory North’s distinguished and droll Cogsworth has substantive moments with Ginsburg’s Lumière that touch on a hope to be “Human Again” and a recurring repartee that involves humorous puns about Cogsworth being “ticked off.” North’s depiction actually reminds one of English comedian Terry-Thomas (known for “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”) who had the unique ability to be both gentlemanly and farcical. Moreover, understudy Sarah Marie makes for a noble and generous Mrs. Potts, who sweetly sings the title song, and shares a heartfelt relationship with her cupboard-housed son, Chip (the adorable Luke Pryor).
Last, but not least, Nandani Sinha’s portrayal as the Italian soprano and vanity armoire, Madame de la Grande Bouche, and Jade Rosenberg, Daisy Bishop, and Jessie Sherman as Gaston’s adoring Silly Girls, also deserve recognition among a cast that has no weak links whatsoever.
Overall, 5-Star Theatricals’ highly professional production of “Beauty and the Beast” far exceeds expectations, led by Susan Egan, who, to use a boxing analogy, exultantly reclaims her role as Belle on stage just as George Foreman reclaimed the World Heavyweight Championship the same year (1994) Egan made her debut in this indelible epic. Egan’s performance is a triumph of the human spirit, as is the collective unity of her cast mates, who have undoubtedly researched their characters extensively, and put in the work, to deliver a sensational show that overcomes its predictable plot to be just as emotionally resonant as if it were being experienced for the very first time.
For more information about “Beauty and the Beast” at the Fred Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks, CA, please visit civicartsplaza.com