Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Rent
Through her casting, director Marcia Milgrom Dodge is broadening the perception of characters made familiar through the 1991 Disney animated film, the 1994 Broadway musical adaptation, and the 2017 live-action remake. Dodge's philosophy, which drives this production, is that beauty is not a simple ideal based on appearance but a much deeper and more thoughtful element of one's personality.
In addition to a Belle who doesn't look as if she stepped out of an old storybook, the Beast gets a unique appearance. He is played by Evan Ruggiero, a tall and accomplished performer who has used a pegleg since losing a leg to bone cancer while in college. That hasn't stopped him from becoming an acclaimed dancer and, more importantly, is irrelevant to the story's magical spell that turns a selfish young prince into a beast.
The high quality of performers extends to the supporting roles. Sasha Olinick is Belle's father Maurice, sweet-natured and a dreamer, while Michael Burrell swaggers hilariously as Gaston, who says he loves Belle but could never love anyone more than he loves himself. (John Walden gives him muscular choreography more athletic than artistic.) The enchanted residents of the Beast's castle include Helen Hayes Award recipients Bobby Smith as flashy Lumiere and Iyona Blake as practical Mrs. Potts, Dylan Arredondo as fussbudgety Cogsworth, and Jessica Lauren Ball as the overly dramatic Madame de la Grande Bouche. They all shine in Ivania Stack's ingenious costumes.
The physical production also plays with expectations. Narelle Sissons' scenic design is nominally set in the ruins of the Beast's castle, but it also encompasses Belle's village (with cleverly devised miniature buildings) and a dark forest patrolled by wolves. Colin K. Bills' lighting (and darkness) design and Matt Rowe's sound design ably enhance the illusion.
Music director Walter "Bobby" McCoy confidently conducts a full-bodied ensemble of eight musicians from the piano.
In conjunction with this production, Olney Theatre Center has launched the #IAmBeauty social media campaign to extend awareness of beauty as both inclusive and expansive.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast runs through January 2, 2022, on the mainstage at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit olneytheatre.org.
Book by Alan Menken