“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” first began as a 1991 animated feature. It became the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Although it didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman did take home the award for Best Song.
The stage version premiered on Broadway in 1994, using all the songs from the animated feature plus a number of new songs by Menken and lyricist Tim Rice (Ashman had passed away during production of the original film).
Now, TownSquare Players brings “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” to the Woodstock Opera House running through March 23 under the talented direction of Artistic Director William Seger, Vocal Director James Gritschke, Choreographer Bridget Kuehnert and Conductor Rosemarie Liotine-Aiello.
The story does not falter from the original film. A self-centered prince angers an enchantress who puts a spell on him and his castle. The prince is turned into a hideous Beast and his servants turned into living furniture. The only way the spell can be broken is if the prince falls in love and earns the same love in return.
Belle is the beauty of her nearby village, but more interested in books than the advances of the local men – in particular those of local braggart Gaston. Belle’s father gets lost in the forest and after taking refuge in the Beast’s castle, is put in the dungeon to rot for all time. Belle, however, convinces the Beast to let her take her father’s place.
Naturally, Belle is repulsed by the Beast, not so much because of his appearance, but because of his brash, angry, selfish ways. But Belle’s charms begin to change the Beast, making him gentle and kind. There is hope that as he changes for the better, Belle may fall in love with him and break the curse.
As Belle, Union’s Cassidy Reich is an angelic beauty with a powerful voice that reaches every corner of the theater. Every moment she is on stage is a joy.
William T. Roberts perfectly captures the physicality of the Beast – the precision of his wolf-like walk is most impressive. He plays many moments for laughs, but that does not take away from the contrast he shows as his character goes from manimal to gentle prince. He has a tender voice one might not expect of a beast, but it is enjoyable to listen to.
Tim Vance digs deep into his bass register to flawlessly capture the bravado of Gaston, the town’s local hunk who has eyes for Belle and an ego that prevents him from even suspecting she is capable of not falling for his brutish charms.
Providing comic relief in every scene he’s in, Lake in the Hills’ Aaron Gomez is a delight as Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou.
Also providing comedic fodder are the Beast’s part-human, part-home furnishings servants: Tania Joy as the teapot Mrs. Potts, John Barnett as the candelabra Lumiere and Alex Fayer as the clock Cogsworth. All three are from Woodstock.
Joy’s rendition of the song, “Beauty and the Beast,” is one of the highlights of the show, as is Barnett’s lively rendition of “Be Our Guest.”
Deanna Golema, who lights up the stage with her radiant smile and flirtatious shimmy, is a scene-stealer as the feather duster Babette. Emily Robles is also compelling as the vanity Madame de la Grande Bouche.
Also worthy a mention are Travis Greuel as Belle’s father, Maurice; Larisa Bell, Kelsey Rosenorn and Savannah Thomas as the bevy of beauties vying for Gaston’s attentions; William Madigan as youngster Chip and Randy Peterkort as Monsier D’arque.
The ensemble is very strong. Members include Liam Bell, Austin Krause, Erin O’Brien, Christian Parks, Grace Schulz, Ethan Sherman, Ariella Simandl, Eric Torres, Joseph Walsdorf, Kevin Wright and Heidi Zapp.
What the cast, artistic staff, crew and orchestra have created is simply magical.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” continues at the Woodstock Opera House (121 Van Buren St., Woodstock) Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 23. Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays with a 2 p.m. production March 23. There also is an 8 p.m. showing on March 21. Tickets range from $18-$25.
• Rikki Lee Travolta has headlined and directed theatrical productions around the country. He has written two novels and a memoir, all revolving around the entertainment world. He currently hosts a weekly musical theater radio program It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee on 101.5 FM. Rikki Lee also is the founder of It’s Showtime Theatre of Huntley and continues to serve on the advisory committee. For information, visit www.rikkileetravolta.com.