Walking into the Paramount Theatre on this opening night, it was impossible not to feel the excitement bubbling around the room. At the center of the lobby is a large Christmas tree – filled to the top with bright lights and ornaments. Surrounding the tree were audience members of all ages – and so many of the youngest simply could not stand still. Some were dressed as Belle, some as the Beast, and others in their own fancy outfits perfect for the occasion. The holidays are quickly approaching, and it was clear to this writer that Paramount Theatre offered these families an exciting way to kick off that time of year.
Paramount Theatre presents Beauty and the Beast
With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, the musical follows the storyline with which many are familiar from the 1991 Disney animated film. As many know, the story begins with the prince rejecting to grant a beggar woman shelter. She reveals herself to be an enchantress in disguise, and places a curse on him and his castle. The young prince is turned into a beast – and cursed to live out his days in that form unless he can learn to love and earn that love himself. When Belle (Beth Stafford Laird, with beautiful vocals) finds herself in his castle, the Beast (Paul Jordan Jansen, with equally powerful vocal talent) may have found the hope he needs – if he can learn to listen to his heart before it is too late.
Directed by Amber Mak, Beauty and the Beast features hit songs including Be our Guest, A Change in Me, If I Can’t Love Her, Beauty and the Beast, and Gaston. Mak and her co-choreographer Todd Rhoades fill the stage with on-point and over-the-top choreography that heightens the magic, inviting the audience into a world of wonder.
Beauty and the Beast takes place in a magical world, and with Mak at the helm, the artistic team brings that fairy-tale to life. When entering the theater, Scenic Designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s stage is bare except for large books that line the border. Center stage is a large fairytale book on an easel, featuring the title Beauty and the Beast. At the start of the production, the book opens, and a narrator (Jennie Sophia) takes us through the beginning – the story of the enchantress teaching the beast a lesson for his selfish nature. As the narrator details the events, a silent scene unfolds – actors performing the story for the audience. Mak and Magic Designer Christopher Rose find moments for illusions– particularly in the transformations of the beggar woman into the enchantress, and the young prince into a beast. Both of these moments are so seamless that if you are not looking, you might just miss them all together.
Lighting Designer Jesse Klug fills the stage with a gorgeous mixture of deep purples and blues – lighting that we later come to connect to the dark mystery of the castle. The performance physicalizes the narration in an exciting manner that keeps the young people in the audience engaged, and appropriately sets us up for the magical vocabulary we will see later.
Beauty and the Beast is full of up-beat songs that audiences will recognize from the film, and Mak and Rhoades do not disappoint in utilizing the stage and ensemble to transform them into large theatrical events.
In an effort to cheer up Gaston, Lefou (Nick Druzbanski) sings Gaston – a large ensemble number with the villagers in the local tavern. Druzbanski’s portrayal of the character is adorable, with a stage presence full of fun and bubbly excitement. The song itself is already comedic and Lefou details all of Gaston’s strengths, and Mak and Rhoades’ choreography push the number over the top. In a particularly striking moment, the ensemble is lined up across the stage, and embark on an extended sequence of tapping their mugs with those of their neighbors in perfect time – while at the same time completing other highly physical choreographic sequences. The ensemble’s coordination elicited cheers from the Opening Night audience.
Folks might expect Be Our Guest to be another show stopping number, and Mak and Rhoades certainly rise to the challenge. This is Lumiere’s (Jackson Evans) big number in which we finally have the opportunity to see the enchanted castle in action. Evans wows the audience with charm as he orchestrates the event, and Mak and Rhoades utilize every ounce of space on the stage to utilize the large ensemble (with extravagant costumes from Costume Designer Theresa Ham). The piece is full of kick lines, tap numbers, and so much more. At the number’s conclusion, the audience cheered yet again, and this writer certainly felt those performers deserved the praise.
A talented ensemble and stunning design make Be Our Guest a holiday treat for the entire family.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Beth Stafford Laird, Paul-Jordan Jansen, Katherine Lee Bourné, Nick Druzbanski, Jackson Evans, George Keating, Becca McCoy, Emmett O’Hanlon, Ron E. Rains, Jennie Sophia, Aaliyah Montana, Izzie Rose doubling, Brian Bandura, Danielle Davila, Billy Dawson, Evan C. Dolan,Timothy P. Foszcz, Christopher John Kelley, Taylor Lane, Ashley Lanyon, Bernell Lassai III, Ivory Leonard IV, Jenna Napolitano, Nich O’Neil, Sara Reinecke, Elizabeth Romero, Aalon Smith, Darian Tene, Katherine Viviano, Charles Emery Ward, Trevor Vanderzee
Amber Mak, director/co-choreographer;
Todd Rhoades, co-choreographer;
Kory Danielson, music supervisor and music director/conductor;
Jeff Kmiec, scenic designer;
Theresa Ham, costume designer;
Jesse Klug, lighting designer;
Adam Rosenthal, sound designer;
Mike Tutaj, projection designer;
Katie Cordts, wig, hair and makeup designer;
Jesse Gaffney, properties designer;
Christopher Rose, magic designer;
Ethan Deppe, electronic music designer;
Jerry Galante, fight choreographer;
Susan Gosdick, dialect coach;
Landree Fleming, assistant director;
Charlotte Rivard-Hoster, assistant music director/associate conductor;
Jinni Pike, stage manager;
Kelly Montgomery, assistant stage manager.
Running through January 19, 2020
23 E. Galena Blvd.
Check for Half-Price Deals from Hot Tix:
For full-priced tickets and ticket availability visit the Paramount Theatre website or call (630) 896-6666
Photos by Liz Lauren
Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.