Musical delivers pure magic for all ages
AURORA – The Paramount Theatre's production of "Beauty and the Beast" is as magical as the enchanted castle where much of the production takes place.
The musical is a feast for the eyes, starting with the scene in which an enchantress turns the Prince into the Beast. I was literally left wondering, how did that happen?
In the director's notes for "Beauty and the Beast," director and co-choreographer Amber Mak explains that she was a young girl when the animated Disney version of "Beauty and the Beast" was released.
"I remember sitting in the theater being terrified of the wolves, sympathetic to the Beast and deeply identifying with Belle because of her love of books and adventure," Mak says.
Obviously, she has tapped into those memories in staging this enchanting version of "Beauty and the Beast" as a perfect way for families to usher in the holiday season. The tale holds pleasures for audience members of every age.
Knowledge of the source material also is a help to Beth Stafford Laird in her portrayal of Belle.
Although Laird is new to the Paramount stage, she has toured Asia, Europe and the Middle East with "Beauty and the Beast." Her strong vocals and stage presence are one of the reasons this production flies so high.
Paul-Jordan Jansen is perfectly cast in the role of the Beast. Jansen, who earned a Jeff Award for best actor for Paramount's "Sweeney Todd," once again shows why he is one of the stars of the Paramount stage. His operatic vocal style and arresting performance, coupled with stunning scenery and costuming, help lift the production above its original animated version.
Emmett O'Hanlon shines as the dangerously arrogant cad Gaston who is pursuing Belle.
The musical also contains plenty of laughs, mostly provided by Jackson Evans as Lumiere and George Keating as Cogsworth. They are among the superb supporting cast.
A show-stopping version of "Be Our Guest" – complete with confetti being dropped onto the audience – leaves the audience feeling oh so welcome.
"Beauty and the Beast" will continue through Jan. 19. For families with young children, the Paramount has introduced special family-friendly start times every Friday and Saturday in January.
The production also is linked to several special events.
A "Beauty and the Beast" Broadway panel series will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the neighboring Paramount School of the Arts, 20 S. Stolp Ave.
Panelists are Mak and Liv Hanson, content curator for youth at the Chicago Public Library. They lead a free discussion about the history of fairy tales and the history of women within fairy tales and literature. Registration is requested at ParamountSchool.com.
In addition, the Paramount School of the Arts plans a Holiday Open House from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Dec. 6, in association with the city's Cocoa Crawl festivities. People can drop by for tours, free classes, holiday crafts, caroling, snacks, hot cocoa, pictures with Santa and raffles for tickets to "Beauty and the Beast." All ages are welcome and reservations are requested.
If you go
WHAT: Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" musical
WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., downtown Aurora
WHEN: Through Jan. 19
COST: Single tickets range from $36 to $74
INFO: paramountaurora.com, 630-896-6666