BDT Stage’s ‘Beauty & the Beast’ the show to see with kids this summer

It was during Scene 5 in Act II of BDT Stage’s extraordinary production of Beauty & the Beast that I was torn between watching Lillian Buonocore as Belle nail every note of “A Change in Me” and watching my two transfixed granddaughters riveted to their seats. As Buonocore hit some of the higher notes, the 6-year-old started lightly clapping, celebrating in her own way the magic this production has managed to achieve with a top-flight cast and orchestra paired with a dazzling display of stagecraft, costumery and sound effects.

It’s a tour de force, a new height for BDT Stage and the kind of show that utterly transports the audience to another place — a fully realized fantasy world where anything is possible. As a show to bring children to, it’s hard to imagine a better introduction to theater, where not only is your favorite Disney character on stage just a few feet from you, but you’ve just polished off a big bowl of mac & cheese (this is, after all, a dinner theater).

We also saw Buonocore as Arielle in BDT Stage’s production of The Little Mermaid last summer, and it’s clear that, when it comes to playing princesses, she has no equal in Colorado. She’s a gifted vocalist and a strong actor capable of playing Belle far beyond the two-dimensional princess with little control over events. In this story, Belle is a soon-to-be princess firmly in the driver’s seat and a woman who suffers no fools — particularly those of the male gender.

A world created

It’s clear from the start that the director/choreographer team of Alicia K. Meyers and Matthew D. Peters had the green light to go all-out on this production. For a show like Beauty & the Beast, it’s hugely important to have all the trappings of the world in place before the first note is sung. It’s hard to say enough about the team that created it all, but it starts with scenic design by Amy Campion, lighting by Brett Maughan, sound by Wayne Kennedy and costumes by Linda Morken.

At the heart of the action is a semi-circular curtain/scrim that displays projections (by Tom Quinn) ranging from dropping rose petals to snow. The unique design of the curtain allows it to change colors quickly, and also be raised and lowered almost instantly. I mention this because this element is so critical to the show’s success at creating this world, and it’s not something we see very often.

All of that is in service to a very strong cast led by Buonocore and Cole LaFonte as The Beast. Other standouts include Scott Beyette and Bob Hoppe as the cursed/enchanted servants Cogsworth (the clock) and Lumiere (the candle). The two have a great rapport and serve as a temperamentally opposed pair of guides through the Beast’s castle. Hoppe also leads the huge and impressive “Be Our Guest” number with gusto, and has a wonderful time with Babette, the feather duster (an endearing and energetic Danielle Scheib) — a slightly libidinous pursuit that hopefully went over the heads of most of the kids in the audience.

As Mrs. Potts, Tracy Warren is another standout who does a great job with the solo “Beauty and the Beast” number and is hilarious throughout.

As Gaston, Scott Servertson looks to be having a blast portraying the puffed-up nitwit whose goal of marrying Belle is clearly a non-starter. He also leads one of the more impressive of the musical numbers: a tankard-clanking bit of precision choreography that’s a blast to watch. As his oft-oppressed sidekick Le Fou, Leo Batlle is on top of it, hitting all of Le Fou’s gaffes and pratfalls with maximum comic enthusiasm.

Sporting a bushy wig and a push-broom mustache, Wayne Kennedy brings Belle’s father Maurice to life in memorable fashion: alternately wacky, tormented and loving as the situation demands. In addition to directing this busy show, Meyers also does nice work as the batty Madame de la Grande Bouche. And I’d be remiss not to mention Mrs. Potts’ son Chip (Markus Hollekim), who manages to act the part while confined to a tea cart most of the show, only his head showing.

This production also features an ensemble of highly accomplished dancers and singers who go through an amazing number of costume changes while always hitting their marks: Hugh Butterfield, Sky Cash, Tracey Dennig, Cole Emarine, Sarah Rose Hackshaw, Cory Michael Klements, Chas Lederer, Christy Oberndorf, Matthew D. Peters, Alissa Spooner and Olyvia Sydelle.

Finally, for the little ones, there’s an after-show opportunity to meet some of the cast members. Buonocore graciously posed for photos, accepted hugs and made some dreams come true for little girls who always wanted to meet a princess. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful night of theater the girls (along with their mother and me) won’t soon forget.

Up next at BDT Stage

  • Mamma Mia: Oct. 5, 2019-Feb. 22, 2020
  • Ragtime: March 7-May 30, 2020
  • The Sound of Music: June 5-Sept. 19, 2020

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