Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is as delightful today as ever, and Toby’s Dinner Theatre does it just right.
If you are a certain age—somewhere between 30 and 40—Beauty and the Beast is in your bones, for the 1991 animated Disney film was a landmark production built with magic. It made over an ancient French fairy tale with a more modern-minded heroine (the godmother to all subsequent Disney Princesses) and tunes we’ve never stopped humming. In large part because Disney quickly capitalized on the film, turning it into a musical in 1994 and a live action movie released just last month.
We know the tale—its as old as time: an arrogant, vain Prince (Justin Calhoun) turns away a ragged, hideous woman one stormy night only to have her reveal herself as an enchantress, who then casts him and his castle under a cruel spell. He becomes the monstrous Beast (Russell Sunday) and his servants all turn into inanimate objects, albeit with vibrant personalities. There’s the loose and lusty candlestick Lumiere (Jeremy Scott Blaustein), the tightly wound clock Cogsworth (David James), the sensible teakettle Mrs. Potts (Lynn Sharp-Spears) and her son Chip (Nathan Pham), the flirty feather duster Babette (Elizabeth Rayca), and the operatic wardrobe Madame Bouche (Jane C. Boyle).
In the nearby village, the beautiful but bookish Belle (Nicki Elledge) dreams her days away at her Father’s, Maurice (Robert John Biedermann 125), side while the boorish “dreamboat” Gaston (David Jennings) and his impish sidekick Lefou (Jeffrey Shankle) plot to woo and marry her. She’s having none of it. And then, through an act of self-sacrifice, she finds herself locked away in the enchanted castle, sharing meals with the Beast as his merry band of cheerleaders facilitate a love connection, which will break the spell. But not before Gaston shows up with some riled villagers, bent on killing the Beast.
Toby’s production is moody fun, filled with charming costumes, splendid musical numbers, and soaring voices. Naturally, the original songs from the film are still the best—catchy, melodic yarns sung with aplomb, especially the crowd-favorite “Be Our Guest,” led by Lumiere but filled with singing dishes, whisks, and silverware. They steal the show in a number that’s hard to steal (the tango! the can-can! tap dance!), especially since Blaustein’s Lumiere is everything we want him to be. Randy, witty, overdramatic, and thick with accent.
But, about that ensemble. Brilliant. In all they do, they do very well, filling a small space while wearing large costumes and doing nuanced dances. It seems to me a feat of engineering.
Elledge’s determined Belle is true to the character—sweet, smart, and kind. Her voice sounds like a clear stream on a summer day. Pure, vibrant, and alive. Sunday’s Beast finds the balance between a snarly animal, petulant child, and genuinely decent human and walks it ever so carefully, and with large, hairy feet I’d never want to touch. He also catches some swagger the further and further Belle falls for him, giving him the confidence to unearth all the human emotions he thought he’d lost.
Jenning’s Gaston is a real comic treat. The self-proclaimed man-candy is a haughty, grinning buffoon who makes no attempt to mask his lust for the female derriere, ridicules thought and the thoughtful, and boasts beliefs about women that are just as silly today as they were in 1991.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
closes June 11, 2017
Details and tickets
“It’s not right,” he’s says, “for a woman to read!” before declaring that if he’s to marry Belle, she can’t be thinking all the time and getting ideas. The travesty! It’s about the only time he has a genuine thought about another human that’s not masquerading as commentary about him. His self-titled “Gaston” is a joyful celebration of all things manly man. He, Lefou, and the tavern patrons pull out the stops, leaping onto tables and moving together in a makeshift drumline that features metal mugs clanking together.
Also, there’s nothing funnier, to me, than watching an egotistical maniac sing that he ate five-dozen eggs while holding up three fingers. And there’s the true beauty in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—it still feels fresh, relevant, and good for a laugh—even using the same old gags—or a tug at the heartstrings. Director Mark Minnick smartly doesn’t stray far from what made it work the first place. The actors’ dress, mannerisms, even voices, all expertly call back to the beloved classic.
My only criticism, which is really more a planning tip, is that it felt long. It is a dinner show, so be prepared to settle in for a solid four hours of food, libations, and song. And, on my first time at Toby’s, I got to see the herculean effort, time and almost coordinated choreography needed to serve a meal and perform a musical on the exact same floor.
So, go. Put Toby’s service to the test and be their guest for the magic of musical theatre.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast . Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Wolverton. Directed and Choreographed by Mark Minnick. Music Directed by Ross Scott Rawlings. Featuring Justin Calhoun, MaryKate Brouillet, Russell Sunday, Nicki Elledge, Jeffrey Shankle, David Jennings, Samantha McEwen Deininger, Julia Lancione, Robert John Biedermann 125, David James, Jeremy Scott Blaustein, Elizabeth Rayca, Lynn Sharp-Spears, Nathan Pham/Ethan Lee, Jane C. Boyle, Andrew Horn, Coby Kay Callahan, Rachel Kemp, Kyle Louviere, RJ Pavel, DeCarlo Raspberry, AJ Whittenberger, Lawrence B. Munsey, Anwar Thomas, and Rebecca Vanover. Production: David A. Hopkins, Set Designer; Lynn Joslin, Light Designer; Lawrence B. Munsey, Costume Designer; Corey Brown, Sound Designer; Emily Thompson, Technical Director; John Pantazis, Assistant Technical Director and Set Construction; David A. Hopkins, Russell Sunday, and Mark Grad, Set Construction; Anwar Thomas, Dance Captain; Coleen M. Foley or Heather Williams, Light Board Operator; John Pantazis or Emily Thompson, Sound Board Operator; Jacob Hale, Mikayla Kraft, Amber Masters, and Brian Wnsus, Running Crew; Amy Kaplan, Properties and Set Dressing. Kate Wackerle or Erin McDonald, Stage Managers. Kate Wackerle, Production Stage Manager. Orchestra: Ross Scott Rawlings or Douglas Lawler (Conductor/Keyboard 1); Reenie Codelka, Ann Prizzi, or Nathan Scavilla (Keyboard 2); Mike Barber, Frank Gorecki or Tony Neenan (Trumpet); Kevin Dolan, Steve Haaser or Charlene McDanial (Reeds/Woodwinds); Kristin Chamberlain, Andrew Houde, Heidi Littman or Amy Stephens (French Horn); Bob LaForce, Lucky Marino, Evander McLean, or Nathan Scavilla (Percussion). Presented by Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia. Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.