Drury Lane's 'Beauty and the Beast' enchants despite staging missteps
"Disney's Beauty and the Beast" - ★ ★ ★
Longing, conviction and not judging a book by its cover. These are at the heart of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," the rousing and relevant "tale as old as time" musical currently commanding the stage at Oakbrook Terrace's Drury Lane Theatre under the direction of Alan Souza.
Belle (aptly sung and acted by Glen Ellyn native Erica Stephan) longs to break free of her "provincial life" while her eccentric inventor father Maurice (the charming Mark David Caplan) wishes to give her the life she imagines from the books she's always reading. Belle and Maurice are well-aware that the townspeople find them odd. But they stand true to who they are, especially Belle, who constantly fends off the advances of town macho-man Gaston (a confident Mark Banik).
While en route to an inventors' competition, Maurice loses his way in the forest and stumbles into the castle of the Beast (Brandon Contreras, whose Beast is slightly underwhelming at times). Once a boastful prince, he was punished years earlier by an enchantress who cast a spell over him and his home. When Belle finds her father in the Beast's dungeon, she offers to stay in exchange for his release. Belle doesn't fear the Beast (and neither do we, unfortunately). Rather, she sees him as a bully and stands up to him, which ultimately softens his pride.
The prospect of true love for the Beast, which could break the curse, sends the castle's inventively costumed enchanted objects -- Lumiere (the lithe, amusing Tony Carter), Cogsworth (the endearing Nick Cosgrove) and Mrs. Potts (the self-assured Bri Sudia) -- into a tizzy. The three play off each other seamlessly as they nudge Belle and the Beast together.
Backed by the excellent orchestra led by Christopher Sargent, the lush music by Alan Menken and well-known lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice carry the production throughout. Ron De Jesus' equally uplifting choreography was on grand display in the showstopping "Be Our Guest" and "Human Again," during which costume designer Ryan Park's enchanted objects wowed.
That said, in the dramatic scenic design from Kevin Depinet, the main set piece -- a revolving curved grand staircase -- at times was a distraction. When the staircase was downstage, some of the action behind it (the Beast fighting the wolves) was difficult to see. With the staircase moving throughout scenes and a lack of defining props at some points (a small stool and a wardrobe were the only objects to distinguish Belle's "room" in the castle), it was hard to get a sense of where the action was happening.
And, in the final battle between the Beast and Gaston, the action was so far back and dark that it was difficult to follow. Two other quibbles: The "moss" hanging from the moving staircase should be adjusted so as not to get stuck in the actors' hair. And the smoke during the Beast's transformation was overwhelming and distracting -- audience members squirmed as it billowed over the first few rows.
Still, the musical enchants and serves as a necessary reminder to look beyond outward appearances to see the humanity underneath.
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Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylanetheatre.com
Shows: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday; through Sunday, Jan. 27. Also: only noon Saturday, Nov. 17; only at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 22; added show at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4; no show Friday, Dec. 7; no 8:30 p.m. show Jan. 5.
Tickets: $60-$75; dinner and show packages available
Parking: Complimentary valet, parking in adjacent covered garage
Rating: For all audiences, but best for ages 5 and older