I doubt there was one person in the entire Carl Freeman Auditorium who hadn’t seen some version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (either the original animated film from 1991, the live-action version that came out in 2017, or the Broadway musical version) before. But that doesn’t mean this production from Damascus Theatre Company didn’t serve up some wonderful surprises.
The first and greatest surprise came in the form of Clay Comer, who is Gaston brought to life. From bulging physique to booming voice, it felt as though Comer stepped right out of the animated film and onto the stage. When he sang, “As you see I’ve got biceps to spare,” the person next to me muttered, “totally.” His presence lit up the stage every time he appeared and his take on the “boorish, brainless” (to quote Belle) brute was the perfect complement to David A. Robinson’s portrayal of the more intellectual and introverted Beast. Gaston’s sniveling little sidekick, Lefou, played by Justin Douds, was also perfectly cast for the role. Together the two made a villainous team that added a much-needed bit of comedy to the story.
In fact, on the subject of casting, the creators of this show, Director Lee Michele Rosenthal and Producers Carol Boyle and Elli Swink, could not have done a better job. From little Chip, played by Nick Ramirez, to Mrs. Potts, played by Zoe Alexandratos, to Belle (Bailey Wolf) herself, each actor seemed to inhabit the characters they were portraying, successfully bringing these iconic characters to life.
Costumes for the production, designed by a team led by Carol Boyle, were rich and interesting, delivering details that enhanced the actors’ portrayal of clocks and candlesticks and vanities (both the furniture kind and the personality trait). But it was the actors themselves who did the most to turn themselves into almost inanimate objects. Jason Damaso as Lumiere the candlestick, Keith Tittermary as Cogsworth the clock, and Stephanie Miller as Babette the duster infused the characters with personalities that were only hinted at in the films.
The show’s able ensemble also did a great job of making the show’s larger production numbers, including the opening song “Belle” and “Be Our Guest” feel full and complete. There’s no way to compete with animation when it comes to dancing flatware but Rosenthal’s direction filled the stage with movement and color. Likewise, the show’s wolves successfully brought that part of the story to life, with excellent fight choreography by Michael Page.
While there is certainly a lot to like with this production, I won’t say there weren’t some bumps in the road. There were a number of minor wardrobe malfunctions and a few times when it was difficult to hear the performers. And the set, designed by Bill Brown, while very impressive (I liked how it was folded and unfolded like a “Jacob’s ladder”) was unwieldy and clearly difficult for the stagehands to maneuver, leading to some awkward scene changes.
The orchestra (playing out of sight of the audience), directed by Marci Shegogue, hit a few wrong notes during the show’s overture but quickly hit their stride and delivered an excellent accompaniment to the show’s many songs, both familiar and new.
For those who have only watched the animated film, the live show contains several additional songs including solos for the Beast (“If I Can’t Love Her” and “How Long Must This Go On?”), a duet between Belle and her father (“No Matter What”) and an additional song for Belle (“Home”). With the exception of “If I Can’t Love Her,” emotionally sung by David A. Robinson, the other songs pale in comparison to the familiar songs from the movie.
In short, Damascus Theatre Company’s Beauty and the Beast is exactly what good community theater should be: a showcase of extremely talented local performers providing the community with a fun and memorable night out on the town. Take your favorite Disney fan to see DTC’s Beauty and the Beast. You are bound to leave singing and smiling.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Beauty and the Beast: The Broadway Musical plays through November 11, 2018, at Damascus Theatre Company performing at the Carl Freeman Auditorium, Historic Stage at Olney Theater Center–2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD. For tickets, call 1-866-967-8167 or go online.