Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Imagination Stage (review)

The Beauty and the Beast fairy tale is timeless, and many of us have grown up with the gorgeous music by Alan Menken and lyrics from Howard Ashman and Tim Rice in the true Disney animated extravaganza, so why see it on stage?  Because the Imagination Stage production brings the story to life right in front of our eyes with tip-top design, terrific casting, and a talented director who knows how to unleash the power of the tale.

The backstory about the selfish prince who is cursed until he feels love and is loved in return is quickly relayed in silhouette at the top of the show, and then the bouncy tale takes off running.  The opening number, “Belle,” brings the rousing cast of characters to the stage from all directions extolling the virtues of the simple life– villagers tout their wares with a baker showing off gleaming loaves, a fisherman with a string of the latest catch, a cross-dressed Mom with babe in arms—okay, that one was thrown in for a quick laugh, and there are chuckles a plenty with this show.

(l-r) Sarah Anne Sillers, Jobari Parker-Namdar, Jessica Lauren Ball, Ian Anthony Coleman, Matt Dewberry, Maggie Robertson in Disney's Beauty and the Beast at Imagination Stage (Photo: Margot Schulman)

(l-r) Sarah Anne Sillers, Jobari Parker-Namdar, Jessica Lauren Ball, Ian Anthony Coleman, Matt Dewberry, Maggie Robertson in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Imagination Stage (Photo: Margot Schulman)

All of the wonderfully familiar songs are there and rendered with great voices. As book worm Belle, Jessica Lauren Ball has an angelic voice, engaging demeanor and sweet sparkle in her eye that is endearingly real.  She re-reads favorite passages from library books, lost in her own world, oblivious to the snide looks and remarks of the villagers. A special treat is her performance of the sweet ballad “Home” created for the Broadway version and beautifully performed here.

Rachel Zampelli is an exquisite Mrs. Potts, with emotional depth adding warmth to her gorgeous vocals –Angela Lansbury would be proud.  Vivian Elise Poe is one of the two youngsters portraying “Chip” with talent galore.  Costume designer Eric Abele worked wonders bringing a functionality to each of the outfits while adorning Belle from village maiden to glistening princess.

Jessica Lauren Ball and Matthew Schleigh in Disney's Beauty and the Beast at Imagination Stage (Photo: Margot Schulman)

Jessica Lauren Ball and Matthew Schleigh in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Imagination Stage (Photo: Margot Schulman)

Matthew Schleigh as the Beast traverses a range of emotions as a scary shaggy roaring lurch who has given up on life and humanity. He crouches and slurps like a ferocious animal, but slowly takes on the manners of the gentleman that’s locked and buried deep inside.

The scale for the production must be seen to be believed. Ensemble members take center stage throughout, including David Landstrom who is terrific as a bumbling sidekick, and swooning ladies who cannot get enough of the puffed up bachelor, Gaston, played with relish by Tiziano D’Affuso.

When Belle discovers that her father is being held captive by a beast in the forest, she runs to his aid and confronts the beast, eventually agreeing to trade places and become his prisoner instead.  It’s a dismal choice that shows Belle’s courage and fortitude—as far as she knows, she’ll be imprisoned forever, and we feel the brunt of that reality through the flawless direction by Kathryn Chase Bryer.  Once Belle enters the enchanted castle, she makes the best of the moments and before long, the beloved characters grab the spotlight, in Lumiere’s case literally– his costume actually lights up.

(-r) Jessica Lauren Ball, Sarah Anne Sillers, David Landstrom, David Landstrom, Maggie Robertson, Ian Anthony Coleman, Rachel Zampelli in Disney's Beauty and the Beast at Imagination Stage (Photo: Margot Schulman)

(l-r) Jessica Lauren Ball, Sarah Anne Sillers, David Landstrom, Maggie Robertson, Ian Anthony Coleman, Rachel Zampelli in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Imagination Stage (Photo: Margot Schulman)

Creative energy is everywhere as in staging the menacing wolves lurking behind the trees that roll around for even more threatening effect.  Another neat experience is the inventive use of a gate that the father clutches as he seems to be pulled away into the dark background, all nicely done.

The lighting shifts dramatically from the dark castle gates to the gaiety of the household items in their quest to entertain Belle and have much needed fun from their own dark dreary lives.  Jabari Parker-Namdar as Lumiere headlines “Be Our guest” in full spectacular formation.   He sings, dances and twirls with enough high kicks to rock the house.  All of the other beloved characters are perfectly cast as well with Matt Dewberry as Cogsworth the clock, always looking anxiously at his belly for the time in alarm and trepidation. Cogsworth is the conscience to keep everyone on task and hopefully out of trouble and Dewberry brings a wiry nervousness that is fun to watch. 

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Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
5stars
closes January 15, 2017
Details and tickets
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Fight choreographer, Jenny Male, had her hands full creating the movements when the villagers get whipped up into a frenzy to set out to kill something they don’t know really anything about, based on hearsay, a situation that’s always poignant and truly touching today.

The magic of the show is watching the transformation of the Beast as Belle tends to his wounds and his wounded heart. The sweet life messages hit home in this masterful production and the touching sentiments will glow long after the final exit.  No matter how many times you’ve seen other performances, this one makes it brand-new all over again.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a dream come true at Imagination Stage — It will be a while before a livelier more rambunctiously delightful family production will be seen on stage anywhere.

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Disney’s Beauty and the Beast . Music by Alan Menken . Lyrics by Hoard Ashman and Tim Rice . Book by Linda Woolverton . Director:  Kathryn  Chase Bryer .  Cast: Jessica Lauren Ball. Grace Ballard. Ian Anthony Coleman. Tiziano D’Affuso. Matt Dewberry. David Landstrom. Jobari Parker-Namdar. Vivian Elise Poe. Keith Richards. Maggie Robertson. Matthew Schleigh. Sarah Anne Sillers.  Rachel Zampelli . Music director: Deborah Jacobson . Choreographer: Pauline Grossman . Fight Choreographer: Jenny Male . Scenic designer: Samina Vieth   . Costume designer: Eric Abele . Lighting Design: Jason Arnold . Sound and Orchestrations: Matthew M. Nielson . Stage manager: Keri Schultz . Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.

Debbie Minter Jackson About Debbie Minter Jackson

Debbie Minter Jackson is a writer and has performed in musical theater for decades. Originally from Chicago, she has hit stages throughout the Midwest and the Washington, D.C. area including the Kennedy Center in productions with the legendary Mike Malone. Her scripts have been commissioned and produced by the old Source Theater and festivals in New York. She is a member of the play reading and discussion group Footlights and the Black Women Playwrights’ Group. By day she happily works in a federal public health agency as a Senior Program Analyst and is in blissful partnership with her Bill.

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