Theater review: Paramount's 'Beauty and the Beast' enchants with magical mix of thrills, laughs

“Beauty and the Beast” - ★ ★ ★ ★

Paramount Theatre's production of Disney's “Beauty and the Beast” is a dazzling holiday confection, a dark chocolate truffle with a sweet core.

With talking candlesticks, terrifying wolves and an irresistible heroine in a yellow dress, the Aurora theater's “Beauty and the Beast” easily entertains. The challenge for a director, however, lies in refreshing this Disney classic, whose songs are embedded in our memories.

Director Amber Mak rises to that challenge: She embraces the complexities of the French fairy tale with a production that mixes thrills and laughs for children, while impressing adults with its interplay of serious themes and lighter moments.

The story is a familiar one. When book-loving Belle's hapless inventor father is imprisoned by the terrifying Beast, a selfish prince cursed by a powerful sorceress, she volunteers to take her papa's place. In the enchanted castle, staffed by servants caught up in the same spell, Belle and the Beast grow closer. But will she learn to love him in time to reverse the curse?

As Belle, Beth Stafford Laird in her Paramount debut brings a sunny spunkiness to the role that meshes completely with Paul-Jordan Jansen's tortured Beast, racked with rage and surprised at hope.

Their best moment may be unspoken - in the well-known waltz scene - as Laird's face shows an epiphany about her feelings for her captor, just before the Beast sets her free in the first selfless act of his life.

Chemistry builds between Belle (Beth Stafford Laird) and the Beast (Paul-Jordan Jansen) in Paramount Theatre's "Beauty and the Beast." Courtesy of Liz Lauren

As Gaston, the vain villager determined to marry Belle, Emmett O'Hanlon is entertainingly dastardly, while foil Lefou played by Nick Druzbanski brings a panache that shines in the ensemble numbers.

The Beast's servants can be an afterthought in productions of “Beauty and the Beast.” But Jackson Evans as Lumiere, George Keating as Cogsworth and Jennie Sophia as Mrs. Potts are funny and poignant - and they get deft assists from Katherine Lee Bourné as Babette and Aaliyah Montana as Chip. They portray the dehumanizing effect of the enchantment - which turned them into household objects - with a comic edge that hits home.

Belle (Beth Stafford Laird) and Lumiere (Jackson Evans) lead the ensemble in the showstopping "Be Our Guest" in Paramount Theatre's "Beauty and the Beast." Courtesy of Liz Lauren

And Lumiere's “Be Our Guest” is a showstopper. Mak's effervescent choreography delights, including an unforgettable chorus line of china.

Jeff Kmiec's clever sets and Theresa Ham's lush costumes cast a pastel patina over the production reminiscent of an Old Master canvas, and the eerie forest scenes with glowing wolf eyes provide a spooky treat for younger viewers.

As the winter solstice approaches, “Beauty and the Beast” is the perfect way to mark that nexus of dark and light.

<b>Location:</b> Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora. (630) 896-6666 or

<b>Showtimes:</b> 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday (7 p.m. instead in January), 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday (2 and 7 p.m. instead in January), 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, with some additional shows; no shows Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. Runs through Jan. 19.

<b>Running time:</b> 2 hours and 25 mins with intermission

<b>Tickets:</b> $36-$74

<b>Parking:</b> Limited street parking, paid lots nearby

<b>Rating:</b> For general audiences

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