Once upon a time in a faraway land, this “tale as old as time” was the creative brainchild of the French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Her fairytale entitled “La Belle et la Bête”(“Beauty and the Beast”) was published in 1740. The version we now know and love was adapted and revised by the French novelist Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and published in 1756. Almost 200 years later, the French filmmaker and poet Jean Cocteau wrote and directed a screenplay based on this beloved adaptation. In 1991, Walt Disney Pictures produced the award-winning animated film “Beauty and the Beast,” utilizing source material from Cocteau’s film and Beaumont’s adaptation. In 1994, Disney adapted this beloved film for the stage and brought it to Broadway, where it ran for 13 years. With a book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, this captivating musical includes songs from the original movie, plus some wonderful new ones, such “Home,” and “If I Can’t Love Her.” A song cut from Disney’s animated film, “Human Again,” thankfully made its way back into the stage version.
The showstopping number of the evening was “Be Our Guest.” This musical extravaganza, complete with dancing dishes, bedazzling costumes by Dustin Cross, can-can dancing with high kicks, cartwheels, and splits, tapdancing, sensuous tango moves, and bubbles bursting out of Mrs. Pott’s spout, had the audience laughing, clapping, and singing along.
Much of the magic and wonder of this show is a result of the herculean efforts of the creative team. Accolades go out to the director, Drew Humphrey, for his attention to every detail and for bringing out the artistic strengths of this multitalented cast. Kyle Dixon’s imaginative and colorful scenic design seemed to take on a life of its own, magically transforming before our eyes. The high-energy choreography by Mandy Modic kept the show moving at a whirlwind pace. However, what captivated me the most was the opening number, where Kennedy Perez, dancing the role of the Enchantress, appeared otherworldly with her ethereal, graceful, and enticing classical ballet moves.
Charismatic and charming, Daniela Rodrigo brought the right amount of sass and wit to the part of Belle. She demonstrated her stellar vocals throughout the show and gave moving renditions of “A Change in Me” and “Home.” Rodrigo was most convincing as the dutiful daughter of Maurice, an eccentric inventor, brilliantly portrayed by John J. Trujillo. In Act II, when Rodrigo entered the stage looking stunning in the requisite voluminous golden-yellow ballgown, the audience showed their approval by breaking out in spontaneous applause.
Joe Caskey gave an award-worthy performance as the Beast.
With his impressive vocals and body language, he brought dimension to this complex character who goes from being an obstinate, spoiled, bullying Beast to a kind, gentle, and loving Prince. One of the show’s highlights was his heartrending delivery of the beautiful ballad “If I Can’t Love Her.” Caskey and Rodrigo had intense onstage chemistry, which was most apparent as they lovingly danced around the ballroom.
Tim Rogan aced the role of Gaston, the self-centered, muscular misogynistic villain of the story. Although pompous and dim-witted, this part calls for a strong singer to convey a sense of macho bravado, and Rogan certainly brought those characteristics to the comedic song “Me.” Rogan was most convincing in the terrifying “The Mob Song” scene, where Gaston inspired the other villagers to go and kill the Beast. Noah Ruebeck portrayed Lefou, Gaston’s foolish, bumbling sidekick. This part is laden with slapstick and physical humor, and Ruebeck’s antics had the audience in stitches.
And of course, everyone’s favorite characters, the servants, having been transformed into inanimate objects under the Enchantress’s spell, got some of the biggest laughs of the evening. Caitlin Burke gave a memorable performance as Mrs. Potts and delivered a heartfelt rendition of the theme song, “Beauty and the Beast.” Sadie Mathers was endearing as Mrs. Potts’ young son, Chip, bringing warmth, cheerfulness, and wide-eyed curiosity to the role. Jonathan Cobrda, looking stunning in his dazzling golden suit and sparkling shoes, gave a hot, hot, hot performance, lighting up the stage as Lumiere, the candelabra. I loved his sexy interactions and onstage chemistry with the “Oh là là ” Babette, the French maid turned feather duster, portrayed to perfection by the irresistible Samantha Littleford. Robert Anthony Jones brought his A-game to his portrayal of Cogsworth, the high-strung clock. The onstage banter between Lumiere and Cogsworth was another highlight of the show. Celia Tedde as Madame de le Grande Bouche, the opera singer, stole every scene with her incredible vocals and charismatic stage presence.
The top-drawer ensemble includes Blaire Baker, Sam Brackley, Easton Edwards, Jackson Parker Gill, Grace Hamashima, Samantha Littleford, Sadie Mathers, Louisa Mauzé, John Neurohr, Kennedy Perez, Simeon Rawls, Noah Ruebeck, Mark Tran Russ, Celia Tedde, John J Trujillo, Dwayne Washington, and Alyssa Yard.
After each performance, cast members stand in the lobby collecting donations for the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry of Northport. In this season of giving, please bring a few extra dollars to help this worthy cause.
John W. Engeman Theater’s lavish production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a story filled with redemption and romance and a must-see for the whole family this holiday season. This spectacular show runs through December 31, 2023. Tickets may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900, going online at www.engemantheater.com, or visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.