Fresh and fun ‘Beauty and the Beast’ returns to Olney Theatre Center

After COVID forced a pause, the acclaimed and inclusive production is back.

Olney Theatre Center proudly presents its revival of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Time Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton. COVID forced the production to shut down early last season, but not before the show garnered national and critical acclaim. Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge leads a groundbreaking cast built on inclusivity, with Walter “Bobby” McCoy as musical director for the iconic score.

Jade Jones as Belle in the Olney Theatre Center production of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a collective favorite, so naturally, every theater wants its chance to produce it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this show onstage in the last few years, and while always enjoyable, they all meld together after some time. Olney’s production stands out by eschewing cultural norms through its diverse cast, and the sad truth is that this choice is a radical one, even though we all know that it really shouldn’t be. Jade Jones, a self-described queer, plus-sized Black woman, plays Belle, while Evan Ruggiero, whose leg was partially amputated due to bone cancer, plays the Beast. It comes as a bit of a surprise, but why shouldn’t Jones and Ruggiero play these roles? Their stellar vocals and moving performances prove that they are more than qualified. Says director Marcia Milgrom Dodge: “We need to be accountable and celebrate all types of body types, all types of abilities. It’s our job, and our privilege, and our responsibility as theater makers.”

Top: Dylan Arredondo as Cogsworth and Bobby Smith as Lumiere; Bottom: Evan Ruggiero as the Beast and Jade Jones as Belle in the Olney Theatre Center production of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Scenic Designer Narelle Sissons transforms the stage into a dilapidated Baroque castle, including a cobweb-covered chandelier that hints at its former glory. Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills and sound designer Matt Rowe perfect the atmosphere, while Costume Designer Ivania Stack’s creations are not only imaginative and fun but beautiful (I’ve never heard such applause from the audience for a gown reveal). The creative team is expert, especially McCoy’s live orchestra, beneath the stage.

Usually, I give a quick rundown of the show’s plot, but I’ll go ahead and assume you know this story (and if you don’t, where have you been?). Arguably the main appeal of this show is its lavish song-and-dance numbers, which are choreographed by Josh Walden. There are several new musical numbers, the most memorable being “Human Again,” but it’s the classics that are the most enjoyed. Michael Burrell is great as Gaston and grabs the audience’s attention with his self-titled song. “Be Our Guest” is lively and energetic (I’m sure you could watch this number several times and still catch new details), and Kelli Blackwell sings a beautiful rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” as Mrs. Potts.

Beauty and the Beast has a famously large cast, and my only gripe is that there were a couple of accents that could do with some polishing. This production was expertly cast. Evan Ruggiero plays the Beast with a childlike petulance (a fun, welcome twist), and Jade Jones’ strong-minded Belle makes it clear that she won’t be tolerating his tantrums. Together they make a delightful pair. Dylan Arredondo and Bobby Smith have great chemistry as Cogsworth and Lumiere, and John Sygar as LeFou, Gaston’s foolish sidekick, steals every scene he’s in. An exciting new addition to the cast is Helen Hayes Award recipient Tracy Lynn Olivera as Madame de la Grande Bouche, an opera-singer-turned-wardrobe. The overall performances are very charming, and the cast works very well together.

Michael Burrell (top center) as Gaston and John Sygar (bottom) as Lefou in the Olney Theatre Center production of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Olney Theatre Center’s Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is fresh, fun, and very memorable. I hadn’t thought enough about the importance of casting diversity until I experienced it in this classic tale from my childhood. Now that I have, I greatly appreciate it, and I look forward to seeing more productions catch up with our progressive times.

Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays through January 1, 2023, at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD. Tickets ($42–$99) can be purchased online or by calling 301-924-3400. Discounts are available for groups, seniors, military, and students.

The paperless program is here.

The November 22, 2023, opening night souvenir program is here.

COVID Safety: Olney Theatre offers both mask-required and mask-recommended performances for patrons in the Mainstage Theatre and 1938 Original Theatre: For performances on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, face masks are recommended but not required. For performances on Wednesdays and Sundays, face masks are required. Olney’s Health and Safety page is here.

Olney elevates ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to new and exciting heights (review of the 2021 production by Darby DeJarnette, November 12, 2021)
Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge on the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ buzz at Olney (interview by Nicole Hertvik, December 21, 2021, republished November 18, 2022)


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