The universal appeal of fairy tales that end “happily ever after” was on full display Saturday evening at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” The packed house was full of princesses of all ages clad in twinkling tiaras and glittery gowns and carrying illuminated roses in honor of the evening’s performance.
Following a French-themed dinner created by Alhambra Executive Chef DeJuan Roy that featured “the grey stuff” mentioned in the popular song “Be Our Guest,” the audience remained spellbound for a production that faithfully recreated the appeal of the Disney animated feature film – the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The opening village number, “Belle,” succeeded in establishing the familiar characters and transporting the audience to the “poor provincial town” the heroine seeks to escape in search of adventure. From there, the show moves swiftly through the familiar tale, as Belle rescues her father from the beast’s dungeon, offering her life in exchange for his. Indeed, the show’s emphasis on the close relationship enjoyed between Belle and her father Maurice (Robert Lydiard) seemed especially fitting for a Father’s Day weekend performance.
While a few of the scenes seemed to frighten some of the very youngest members of the audience, the overall show was a rollicking good time – particularly the crowd-pleasing showstoppers such as “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston.”
As Belle, Emily Stokes seems a bit more tentative and unsure than her confident animated counterpart, but her hesitancy creates a nice contrast to the bombastic Gaston (Tony Lawson), who is played to greater comedic effect in the stage show. Lawson – who played the egotistical blowhard on the original national tour – is reminiscent of a young Dick Shawn, milking every line and lyric for maximum audience enjoyment. Other cast standouts include Lisa Valdini as the beloved Mrs. Potts, Jason Nettle as LeFou, Brian Beach as Lumiere and Erik DeCicco as Cogsworth. Peter Joshua’s Beast, meanwhile, brings greater depth and complexity to the character, delving more into the bewitched prince’s insecurity and despair.
By the time the happily-ever-after ending arrived, the cast had the audience singing along and believing that sometimes dreams really do come true.
“Beauty and the Beast” runs through July 31 at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining in Jacksonville.