“Beauty and the Beast”

Leave it to the people at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier to scale down the Disney “Beauty and the Beast” to make it a sharper and cleaner piece for true family viewing. This version, directed and choreographed by the brilliant Rachel Rockwell, who truly knows that value of allowing the entire family the opportunity to share their theater experience, this is a 75 minutes of captivating story telling, solid music ( under the skillful direction of Doug Peck) re-imagined on the thrust stage of Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Many children have witnessed the animated version, and as many may have experienced the Broadway, full scale production, but I found this shorter version to be as strong as the original and more enjoyable for the younger set. After all, if the theater can capture the hearts and imaginations of these kids, they are more apt to become theater-goers as they mature.The Beauty and The Beast story with a book by Linda Wolveron and music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, tells the story of a young prince, who because of his selfishness was placed under a spell; he has been transformed into a beast and all of his staff inanimate objects. A rose was tossed at him with the statement that if he cannot change who he is and find someone to love him, the curse will remain forever- that is the story.

Meanwhile, in the ext village, there is a young maiden, Belle ( the lovely Emily Rohm/beauty, with a marvelous vocal range0 who is thought to be odd in character because she loves books and imagination. Her father,Maurice ( played to perfection by Roger Mueller) is an inventor of sorts and due to his zany ideas, the people of the town think him to be a bit crazy. In the village, there is a man who stands out among men,Gaston (Jake Klinkhammer truly nails this role- better than any of the road shows we have seen in town) along with his sidekick Lefou ( played by Andrew Lupp with all the energy and zaniness one expects from this character). He has his mind set on marrying Belle, but she will have none of it.


As the story goes, Maurice, on his way to an invention convention gets lost and finds himself in the castle of the Beats, where he is placed in the dungeon. Belle, finding that he is in trouble seeks to find him, does and in order to get him released agrees to be held captive in his place. As the time goes by, and the petals on the rose start to fall, the Beast finds himself taken by Belle and eventually, with the aid of the other main characters of the household,, she confesses her love to the Beast, who becomes the handsome Prince once again and they marry and everyone lives happily ever after. This is of course a Disney story, so everyone has to live happily after ever. While there are some dark and scary moments in the story, most of the children in today’s audience seemed into the story and didn’t let this bother them. As is my custom, for children’s theater, I bring one or two of my grandkids. Ths being a “girlie” story, Sarah, age four , was my date. There were some moments where she turned away from the beast and other times, where she placed her hands on her ears ( I see a lot of youngster who seem to have a sensitivity to amplified sound at plays and movies) and yet continued to watch each moment on the stage. Sarah was enraptured by the household members-Cogsworth, the clock ( David Lively, who is one of Chicago’s finest when it comes to diversity), Lumiere, the lamp ( deftly handled by Bernie Yvon, who appears to have as much fun as the audience members), Babette, the broom/housekeeper ( the charmingly, sexy Christin Boulette), The dresser,Madame de la Grande Bouche (Joelle Lamarre), Chip, the cup (Johnny Francis Babbo) and his mother Mrs. Potts, the housekeeper,teapot ( one of my favorites on any stage Mary Ernster, who makes the title song’Beauty and the Beast” send chills down one’s spine) and an ensemble that is small in numbers but huge in talent. Oh, yes! Sarah was very glad that Belle and the Prince/Beast ( a wonderful portrayal by William Travis Taylor) got married. She loved the wedding.


The thrust theater is one that juts out into the audience allowing two or three rows to be very close to the sides of the stage and so for this production, they used a backdrop that allowed the entire thrust to be the stage. On the backdrop, projections, let me clarify this to say magnificent projections by expert Mike Tutaj that had the children eyes open wide in awe of hos it appeared that a black/white photo would be projected and then the colors would fill in, almost by magic. The rest of the set ( Scott Davis) was ample enough to allow swift scene changes and keep the movement flowing, in order to keep the interest at a high level ( important when dealing with kids) and the costues by Theresa Ham, lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg and sound by Garth Helm along with the wigs and make up by Melissa Veal were the proverbila”icing on the cake”-


This is a perfect show in oh, so many ways- it teaches children a moral, allows them to hear some wonderful music, watch some lively dancing ( in particular the scaled down version of “Be Our Guest”) but of greatest importance, an opportunity to share an experience and a memory with family- what more can one ask for on a lovely day at Chicago’s Navy Pier?

“Beauty” is of course only here for the summer, through August 26th with performances as follows:      

Wednesdays at 11 a.m., Thursdays ,Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 11 am and 2 p.m.

Tickets  are $18 for children (12 and under) and $25 for adults

You can pre-order/reserve your seats by calling the box office at 312-595-5600 or online at www.chicagoshakes.com

The theater is located at Navy Pier and discounted parking is available ( just bring your ticket to the lobby for validation). with lots of dining and other entertainment venues, so one could make it a Summer Fun day at Navy Pier ( visit www.navypier.org)


To see more about this show, visit www.theatreinchicago.com- review round-up and click  ”Beauty and the Beast”