MILLBURN, NJ - The enduring fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast” never seems to die. From the original 1757 story to a 1946 Jean Cocteau black and white film (which became a classic of French cinema) to a Disney animated film, a 2017 film with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens and, of course, to the musical version that played on Broadway.
The Paper Mill Playhouse has now added its splashy, sparkling version to the mix. With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and a book by Linda Woolverton, the show succeeds in its eternal appeal.
Those who have seen the show before were primed on opening night for “Be Our Guest” and, of course, the lyrical title song. There’s no question that “Beauty,” like “Phantom of the Opera” has all the ingredients for a love story with music: a seemingly ugly hero, a young, innocent woman, and the dastardly, suitor, Gaston, who tries to win her hand. Because of a long ago curse on the prince, he was changed into a beast and others in his household became a teapot, clock, candelabra and wardrobe.
There are definitely some show-stopping highlights in this production, especially “Be Our Guest” that builds and builds to a joyful, chorus, filling the stage with razzle dazzle.
With a multi-talented cast and a convincing Belinda Allyn as Belle, the play nevertheless belongs to Gavin Lee as Lumiere. Lumiere was once an elegant Frenchman who is now serving time as a candelabra. Every movement, every gesture speaks volumes in his ability to keep the action moving. Rounding out the people turned into objects are Stacia Fernandez as Mrs. Potts (the teapot), Kevin Ligon as Cogsworth (the clock), Jenell Chu as Babette ( a feather duster) and Donna English as Madame de la Grande Bouche (the wardrobe.) Tally Sessions is the beast, who miraculously becomes human when he learns to love.
Joel Blum is Belle’s father, Maurice, who has been lost in the forest and seeks shelter in the crumbling castle. When Belle searches for him she willingly exchanges places with her father for his freedom.
Stephen Mark Lucas makes a nasty, selfish presence as Gaston. Despite his unlikeable qualities, he’s a sharp release to some of the more saccharine aspects of the story. His sidekick, Lefou (Kevin Curtis) is often ill treated by his selfish master.
Mark S. Hoebee has directed this tale with an eye to rapid movement, visual delights and chorus, aided by choreographer Alex Sanchez. It isn’t clear why there are dancing girls in the mix, when most of the actors have costumes representing silverware and plates. Still, costume design by Leon Dobkowski, lighting by Charlie Morrison and scenic design by Kelly James Tighe enhance the dreamlike world of this tale. Yet some of those effects are overdone, such as the stage surrounded by extra lights during the final dance with Belle and the prince. A subtle, romantic aura would have sustained a sense of wonder in this tender story. Michael Borth is music director of the delicious music and lyrics.
“Beauty and the Beast” continues at Paper Mill Playhouse through July 3. For tickets, call 973-376-4343 or visit PaperMill.org.