Fear, o’ friends, the far side of the mirror. Where Beasties roam, Woks stalk, great guardians made of stone spear the wicked, and a great witch punishes the vain, the thieving, the cruel without indecision. It is a mystic land—the Land of the Beasts—where light and dark still spar for dominance.
But, Belle must go. The kiss did not work and her dearly beloved, the charming Prince Adam—affectionately known as the Beast—has fled there out of disappointment. For, he is still the haggard animal his people jeer.
Doug Wilder’s Belle and the Beasties isn’t so much a reimagining of the classic Beauty and the Beast as it is a next chapter should one teeny, tiny detail change. The what-happens-after-the-kiss-if-it-doesn’t-work premise is a wonderful fairy-telling triumph far wittier and more fun than its source material.
As Belle (Ashley Milligan) and Beast (William Neal Kenyon) stumble through the Great Forest in search of The Witch (Samantha Williams), and each other. They encounter the good and bad lurking at every turn, finding allies in the least likely of candidates and enemies as old as humanity’s existence. It’s a journey fraught with discovery, honor, and, of course, the dream world kids always imagine exists just beyond reach.
Belle and the Beasties
Written and directed by Doug Wilder
Details and tickets
Costuming and makeup is superb—black light and paint create the multicolored Woks and Beasties, who are two sides to an ancient creature that once loved to dance. The Woks—shadowy, savage Beasties now serving The Harbinger (Jenna Lawrence)—root for darkness to overtake light, but need Beast to fulfill its prophesied return, which will end humanity on the other side of that enchanted mirror.
The still good, and slightly whimsical, Beasties cower from these slithy villains (yes, I just stole a word from “The Jabberwok”), but one befriends Beast and agrees to guide him to The Witch’s castle.
Belle takes a stone man, Rock Guardian (Michael Rincon), as her companion and is joined down the road by an out-of-luck thief with ram horns named Amoro (Thomas Ellis) who’s friendly with The Witch but always seems to evaporate just as trouble nears. Though, he heroes-up to bravely (and comically) defend Belle when it counts.
But not before she stumbles upon a hungry, tottering troll (Maxwell Sparta) keen to riddle his way to a dinner where Belle is the main course. She out thinks him, but Sparta first gives a muppet-worthy performance a la the enthusiastic, manic Animal. Belle also fights off the Wok Acolyte (Erika Jones) with her engagement ring, which is imbued with Prince Adam’s power since she is his true love.
Basically, Belle unleashes a lot of whoop-ass on the bad, the worse, and the ugly of the forest.
Everything—from the footwork and physicality to the banter—coalesces to create a fabulous show. The colorful inhabitants in the Land of the Beasts are expertly distinct in voice and movement. The story fresh and inventive. The direction perfectly envisioned and fulfilled.
And, the writing. It may stand on the shoulders of the original Beauty and the Beast fantasy, but it’s got a firm grasp on reality, creating within it a moral compass (The Witch) who acknowledges the complexity of love and human relationships.
The Witch, rightfully, asks Belle, who has just given an impassioned diatribe on the purity of Beast’s new soul, how long she has known Prince Adam.
“Six months,” Belle boldly answers as The Witch (and audience) laughs.
Humans put their most appealing selves forward when love is on the line, and the original Beauty and the Beast really only proves that we buy into that self. After all, the Beast must convince a woman to love him truly (which he does with imprisonment followed by riches and finery) despite his ugliness. Not that he must overcome his true, inner ugliness.
“If you love him” The Witch tells Belle, “It is only because you are capable of loving a beast, not because he is a good man.”
It’s a refreshing turn, reminding us that fairy tales often endorse archaic (and somewhat sexist) ideas of romance. Hey, producers – Belle and the Beasties deserves to have a turn on the big stage.