Review: ‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’ at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre

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Pure enchantment is the watchword as Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, this beloved 1994 musical was adapted from the Academy Award-winning film of the same name. Bill Kiska and Jordan B. Stocksdale are co-directors and Stocksdale does double duty as the music director. Together, they create a beautiful fable of love and longing, with generous helpings of music, dancing, and comedy that are sure to please audience members of all ages.

Noah Israel as the Beast in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, now playing at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre.
Noah Israel as the Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, now playing at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre. Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre.

The story opens with an ugly old woman, who comes to the castle of a Prince (Noah Israel) who is head-turningly handsome, yet selfish and narcissistic. The woman offers the Prince a rose in exchange for shelter for the night, but he is put off by her looks and refuses her request. The woman tells the Prince that beauty is found within and he shouldn’t judge by appearances. He again refuses her and suddenly, she puts a curse on the Prince and turns him into an ugly monster. The only way he can break the curse is to love and be loved by another before the last petal falls from the rose. As if that weren’t enough, the household servants begin slowly morphing into inanimate objects!

Meanwhile, we find a lovely young girl named Belle (Jaimie Lea Kiska) in a very provincial French village, who lives with her widowed father and is something of an outcast. Unlike her fellow townspeople, she dreams of visiting faraway places and loves to read books. The village heartthrob is Gaston (David Jennings), who is both conceited and nasty. He is determined to marry Belle, but she refuses him.

When her father goes missing, Belle follows clues that take her through the forest and she finds him imprisoned at the Prince’s castle. Now a beast, the Prince will release her father if Belle agrees to remain in the castle forever.

While the story is a fairy tale, the top-notch performances throughout the production are very real. Jaimie Lea Kiska as Belle is pretty and sweet, but also evinces bravery, a hunger for adventure, and a solid moral compass. Her singing voice is on the quiet side, which is appropriate for the role, but she can belt out a big finish when called for. This is beautifully demonstrated as she sings the haunting “Is This Home” and leads the inhabitants of the castle in “Something There.”

David Jennings has a deep, rich baritone voice and he is positively hilarious as the preening, physically strong, but dim-witted Gaston. He emphasizes the narcissism of his character in the titles of two of his songs: “Me” and “Gaston.” And Jennings is fabulous as he leads the townspeople in a precision dance that includes rhythmically clanking silver tankards.

Jaimie Lea Kiska as Belle and David C. Jennings as Gaston in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, now playing at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre.
Jaimie Lea Kiska as Belle and David C. Jennings as Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, now playing at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre. Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre.

As the Prince and the Beast, Noah Israel exudes romance from every pore. (Yes, even as the Beast!) His vocal dynamics are particularly striking as he effortlessly transitions from crescendos to decrescendos and back again in “If I Can’t Love Her.”

In a standout performance, Jacob Hale is a bona fide acrobat as Gaston’s long-suffering sidekick, Lefou, and his physical comedy is not to be missed. The Silly Girls–Jessica Billones, Carol Niedringhaus, and Ari Perichino–are a hysterically funny treat, as they fawn over Gaston.

Speaking of hysterically funny, Jordan B. Stocksdale as Lumiere, the candelabra, and Paul Cabell as Cogsworth, the grandfather clock, keep the candle and clock puns going all evening long. Caleb Whitcomb is charming as Chip, the young teacup, as is Megan E. West as Mrs. Potts, the optimistic tea kettle.

The big production number “Be Our Guest” absolutely stops the show. Choreographer Dee Buchanan and the cast provide soft shoe, tango, and can-can in spectacular fashion. For the title song, Belle and the Beast dance a minuet that is appropriately halting and tentative at first and then gets smoother.

The costumes are amazing! Kudos to Costumers Denise Hoover and Bill Kiska for “human” flatware, napkins, salt and pepper shakers, as well as wolves, and, of course, the Beast. The townspeople are arrayed in a variety of crayon colors, and Lighting Designer Justin M. Kiska provides just the right mood for the town, the forest, and the castle.

With slapstick silliness, lovely songs, challenging and creative choreography, and a sweet story that demonstrates that looking inside for beauty can be very rewarding, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre will delight and entertain you. It is truly a “tale as old as time,” so get your tickets today!

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays through August 18, 2018, at the Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre – located in the Willowtree Plaza, 5 Willowdale Drive, Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 662-6600.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.