Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

 

A CST Family Production

Beauty and the Beast  at Chicago Shakespeare  Theater
Beauty and the Beast at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Music by Alan Menkin

Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice

Book by Linda Woolverton

Originally directed by Robert Jess Roth

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell

Beauty ends curse while enchanting audience

They’ve done it again! The Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Beauty and the Beast enchants the audience just as effectively as the old woman enchants the tale’s hero. These CST Family Productions never disappoint.  They are truly the best theater buys in all of Chicagoland — for audiences all ages!’ While the plot and characters echo the movie — this is an even better experience as the fantasy vividly springs to life. The staging is unique. A projection draws backgrounds in outline before adding colors. The castle interior and exterior (including a magnificent library) and the village scenes appear gradually, as if by magic, recreating the experience of opening a book to watch the tale unfold. Recurring silhouettes of the actors achieve the same effect before the lights come up to reveal them in full, brightly colored costumes. High praise goes to scenic designer Scott Davis and projection designer Mike Tutaj for brilliant work.

Beauty and the Beast  at Chicago Shakespeare  Theater

The story — in a nutshell — tells of a prince (William Travis Taylor), who fails to show courtesy to an Enchantress (Laura Savage) and is therefore transformed into a Beast. The curse will last until he can find love and be loved in return in spite of his physical appearance. Time is limited, as once all the petals have fallen from a magic rose, the curse will last forever.

The talented cast captures the spirit of the spiritedly tale. Handsome  Jake Klinkhammer, as Gaston, nearly steals the show, swaggering, baring his biceps as he struts the stage, combs his hair, and brags about his ability to woo and win the lovely Belle (Emily Rohm). He’s so brash, so narcissistic so egotistical, and so neatly served by his comic, tumbling sidekick Lefou (Andrew Lupp)  — French for The Madman. Bernie Yvon is equally as captivating as the luminous Lumiere, narrating all with a charming French accent.

It doesn’t matter a jot that the audience knows the outcome. The fairy tale and its moral  (with the first version printed in 1740)  are timeless, a true classic. The fun lies in watching how suspense is maintained as the tale unfolds. There is not only the worry about the poor beast, there is fear for Belle’s father Maurice (Roger Mueller)  as he escapes from wolves only to enter the Beast’s castle. There is the worry of the ever-courting Gaston. Can he succeed? What will happen if and when he meets the Beast?

Beauty and the Beast  at Chicago Shakespeare  Theater

Moreover, there is certainly concern for all the inhabitants of the enchanted castle who have been turned into household objects. Lumiere is now a candelabra, Cogsworth (David Lively) is a clock, Mrs. Potts (Mary Ernster) is a teapot and her son Chip (John Francis Babbo)  has become a teacup. A famous opera singer, Madam de la Grande Bouche (Joelle Lamarre)   — translate her title as Mistress of the Big Mouth — is a wardrobe,  and the maid Barbette (Emilie Lynn)  is a feather duster. None will ever return to human form until and unless the curse is lifted!

What a delightful romp  through vivid songs and dazzling choreography displaying excellent voices and skilled routines,. Kudos to director, choreographer Rachel Rockwell. The scene where Belle is invited to dine at the Castle (initially against her will), is a showstopper with the cast delightfully performing:”Be Our Guest.”

The reprise directed to Belle — is even more fitting when directed to the audience:

Be our guest! Be our guest! Be our guest!
Get your worries off your chest
Let us say for your entree
We’ve an array; may we suggest:
Try the bread! Try the soup!
When the croutons loop de loop
It’s a treat for any dinner
Don’t believe me? Ask the china
Singing pork! Dancing veal!
What an entertaining meal!
How could anyone be gloomy and depressed?
We’ll make you shout “encore!”
And send us out for more
So, be our guest!

There could be no better advice. Don’t miss this production.

 Highly Recommended

Beverly Friend, Ph.D.

Member ATC

Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Avenue, 312-595-5600, www.chicagoshakes.com. Tickets $18 -25. All Patrons receive a 40% discount at Navy Pier garages. Wednesdays at 11 a.m. Thursdays through Sundays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. through August 26.  Run time 70 minutes with no intermission  Recommended for ages 5 and up. Audiences are invited to meet members of the cast following each performance..