The Walnut Street Theater has been heavily advertising for the opening of Beauty and the Beast for at least a year. Now it is clear why.
The long-awaited production appeals to everyone from small children to the elderly and is a pleasure to see. The cast of Beauty and the Beast is extremely talented. The actors also make an important effort to distinguish their versions of the characters from those of the Disney movie.
Any regular WST-goer is familiar with Jeffrey Coon. One is hard-pressed to find a play at this venue of which he is not a part of. This time, he takes on the role of Gaston, and masters it. In most plays Coon is appealing, but in this performance he manages to make the audience hate him (in a good way).
In his high-heeled boots, he is sexist, vain and crude, and he manages to convey these traits with gusto. He is a more sexual Gaston than Disney viewers are used to and it works because it provides a layer to the character that older audiences can appreciate.
Belle is played by Christina DeCicco and she is beautiful and competent in the role. It would have been nice to see Belle be a little more independent, but that is more the fault of the playwright than the actress.
The Beast, played by Rob Richardson, is absolutely charming. Richardson conveys the multi-layered nature of his character with ease as the Beast transforms from a violent animal to a bumbling suitor. Also, whoever did the Beast’s makeup deserves major kudos.
While all of the aforementioned major characters were good, Jamie Torcellini clearly steals the show as Lumiere. He is irresistible as the good-natured, womanizing servant/candlestick. Torcellini is hilarious without making his character appear absurd, and his performance in “Be Our Guest” is right on.
The “Be Our Guest” scene is what pushes Beauty and the Beast over the line between a good show and a great show. It is superb, with dancing plates, cheese grater and even a tissue box. A carpet does somersaults all over the stage. Utensils can-can. It is totally over the top and very enjoyable. The only part of the show that deserves criticism is Jonathon Stahl’s portrayal of Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick. Stahl simply tries too hard and plays Lefou as if his audience needs to be beaten over the head with his stupidity. His makeup also is too much, even being viewed from the upper level; he looks like a woman dressed as a man.
Despite this one flaw, Beauty and the Beast, playing now through Jan. 8, is worth every penny. Students can get $10 tickets at the box office on the day of the performance.
With the holiday season approaching, this is the perfect excuse to indulge in the pleasure of an elaborate show that allows us to be just a little bit sappy, and Beauty and the Beast does just that.
Emilie Haerstch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.