Chicago Theatre Review
A Tale as Old as Time
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – Brightside Theatre
Just in time for the holidays comes a production of Disney’s beloved, must-see family musical to downtown Naperville. This magical, musical tale as old as time, that played Broadway for over 5,000 performances, has been seen in multiple tours and been produced by almost every high school, college and community theatre in the country. So what makes BrightSide Theatre’s production so wonderfully special? There are several reasons. As director of this production, Jeffrey Cass has enlisted 18 talented actor/singers of all ages to fill out the story. He’s staged his production upon the Meiley-Swallow North Central venue with artistry, utilizing every square inch of the thrust stage, as well as the backstage and side aisles. He’s also thoughtfully ensured that every little princess, no matter where her throne’s located, is able to fully enjoy the performance.
Cass’ live, full-sounding eight-member orchestra, under the skilled baton of Jon Neuhoff, is housed offstage, and provides a full, rich sound to Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s haunting score. Resident choreographer, Jeni Donahue, has created a palette of movement and dance steps that challenge her actors while providing the audience with that special wow factor. Mr. Cass makes this family musical especially magical when it comes to talent, creativity and enchanting kid appeal.
The cast features many of Chicago’s finest theatrical stars. They’re all sensational and sound like a much larger ensemble while each is giving a full-out, multi-layered performance. From lovely Jesek West’s beautiful, pitch perfect Belle, Jacob Huddilston’s richly-nuanced Beast and Brett Baleskie’s comically egotistical and beautifully sung Gaston, this company really hasn’t a single weak link. Andrew Taylor Swanson’s impishly charismatic Lumiere, Jennie Goss’ motherly Mrs. Potts, Cullen Rogers’ tightly-wound Cogsworth, Michelle Hackman’s comically operatic Madame de la Grande Bouche and Connor Hernandez’s silly, sometimes grating, but athletic Lafou all manage to stand out individually while still blending together as an ensemble.
This Tony Award-winning musical, adapted from Walt Disney’s 1991 animated, Oscar-winning film by Linda Woolverton, tells the story of a callous, coldhearted Prince who’s cursed by an enchantress for his selfish ways. He’s transformed into a creature that’s as ugly as his personality. Along with his entire palace staff, who are turned into everyday objects from around the mansion, the Prince will remain a Beast until he learns to love and be loved by another. That’s when Belle, the Beauty of the story’s title, enters the story.
The production’s behind-the-scene team of imaginative artists, responsible for creating the real magic, include a beautiful, flexible scenic design by Brett Baleskie, imaginative, colorful lighting by Joanna Szewczuk and appropriate fairy tale costumes by Shana Hall.Together they’ve fashioned an elaborate world that evokes gasps and make the cartoon come alive. Every element of this production promises to bewitch audiences of every age, inviting them to “Be Our Guest.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 11-27 by BrightSide Theatre, at the Meiley-Swallow Hall of North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth Street, Naperville, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 630-447-8497 or by going to www.brightsidetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.