‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre is what musicals ought to be

The ‘tale as old as time’ brings fantasy, romance, humor, and child-like innocence to the stage with stellar performances.

Perfect! Perfect! This magical musical is worthy of a standing ovation. It’s what musicals ought to be. Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast is the best musical I’ve seen this year. Mark Minnick’s meticulous direction and choreography brought the story to life.

The show is based on a 1991 Disney animated film, which featured an Academy Award–winning score. Beauty and the Beast’s Broadway adaptation, which made its debut in 1994, features a book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Beauty and the Beast has a total of nine Tony nominations.

Belle (Rachel Cahoon) and Beast (Justin Calhoun) in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Photo by Jeri Tidwell Photography.

Beauty and the Beast transports the audience to an enchanted French village, where Belle becomes a captive in the Beast’s castle. The Beast was once a charming prince cursed by a mysterious witch. Along the way, Belle befriends the enchanted, talking objects in the castle and learns to look beyond the Beast’s exterior, discovering a kind heart underneath. If the Beast falls in love with Belle, his curse will be canceled. The Beast and his minions will meet a dreadful end if he doesn’t.

The live music was a triumph. The orchestra, under the guidance of Ross Scott Rawlings, plays Menken’s compositions with panache. Classics like “Be Our Guest,” “Belle,” and “Beauty and the Beast” were rendered with verve.

The dancing flatware, singing furniture, and heartwarming love story reminded me of the magic that childhood fairy tales have. Minnick’s choreography in the show’s biggest number, “Be Our Guest,” was beauty in motion. Synchronicity prevailed, and the moves were mesmerizing.

The chemistry between Justin Calhoun and Rachel Cahoon, as Beast and Belle, was enchanting. Their singing added a layer of depth and feeling to Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s lyrics in tunes such as “Belle,” “Home,” and “How Long Must This Go On?”

I was swept up in the melodious magic of Lynn Sharp-Spears’ singing in the titular “Beauty and the Beast.” Sharp-Spears played a teapot in human form, Mrs. Potts — complete with a steaming, pouring arm.

Other standouts in this show included Adam Grabau as candle-man Lumiere, David James as Cogsworth, MaryKate Brouillet as Madame, and Patricia “Pep” Targete as Babette. Their big number was “Human Again.” James is a solid member of Toby’s ensemble and a two-time Helen Hayes winner. Grabau has been seen in Toby’s Spamalot and The Producers. Targete turned in good performances recently in A Chorus Line and Sister Act.

TOP: Gaston (Patrick Gover); ABOVE: Belle (Rachel Cahoon), Lumiere (Adam Grabau), and the enchanted objects performing ‘Be Our Guest’ in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Photos by Jeri Tidwell Photography.

Patrick Gover was arrogant and boisterous as town brute Gaston. He brought grandeur and flair to “Gaston” and “Me.” Gover had memorable performances in Toby’s Grease and Escape to Margaritaville. Jeffrey Shankle played Gaston’s devoted sidekick, the long-suffering Lefou (which means “The Fool” in French).

I liked Julia Ballenger as Mrs. Potts’ child, a cup-human named Chip. She effectively acted with her face, protruding from the side of a large teacup prop. Two other child actors played Chip, Elijah Doxtater, and Dylan Iwanczuk.

What can I say about the incomparable Robert Biedermann? A 45-year veteran of Toby’s, Biedermann always makes announcements and birthday shoutouts before shows. In this show, he played Maurice, Belle’s father.

The theatrical sets, designed by David A. Hopkins, were meticulous marvels. They gave me a sense of wonder and delight. The sets flawlessly transported the audience from the quaint village where Belle resided to the scary, labyrinthine castle. The cast and crew wheeled out the scenery wagons, tables, and chairs with precision, mostly in the dark.

Each costume, from Belle’s ball gown to Gaston’s he-man get-up, was designed by Janine Sunday to reflect the personalities of each character. The costumes of the enchanted castle staff, particularly Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and Cogsworth, were whimsical and put me in a story-book state of mind.

Minnick has directed an enchanting rendition of this age-old tale of love overcoming superficial judgments. I forgot my troubles for the two-plus hours of this show. The strength of this timeless piece is its ability to make you believe in love and magic again.

Not only is the show superb, but the food is always a treat at Toby’s. I encourage you to spread the word and invite those you know to “be our [Toby’s] guest” at this dynamite show.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 35 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission.

Beauty and the Beast plays through June 16, 2024, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD. Tickets ($57–$79) can be purchased by calling 410-730-8311 or online.

The menu is here.

Beauty and the Beast
Book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice

Beast: Justin Calhoun
Enchantress: Alexis Krey-Bedore
Belle: Rachel Cahoon
Lefou: Jeffrey Shankle
Gaston: Patrick Gover
Les Filles la Ville: Lydia Gifford, Sarah Joyce, Alexis Krey-Bedore
Maurice: Robert Biedermann
Cogsworth: David James
Lumiere: Adam Grabau
Babette: Patricia “Pep” Targete
Mrs. Potts: Lynn Sharp-Spears
Chip: Julia Ballenger Elijiah Doxtater, or Dylan Iwanczuk
Madame de la Grande Bouche: MaryKate Brouillet
Monsieur D’ Arque: Brandon Bedore
Townspeople/Enchanted Objects: Brandon Bedore, MaryKate Brouillet, Carter Crosby, Lydia Gifford, Angelo Harrington II, Sarah Joyce, Nicky Kaider, Amanda Kaplan-Landstrom, Alexis Krey-Bedore, and Anwar Thomas

Director and Choreography: Mark Minnick
Musical Director/Conductor: Ross Scott Rawlings
Scenic Design: David A. Hopkins
Lighting Design: Lynn Joslin
Sound Design: Mark Smedley
Costume Design: Janine Sunday

Conductor/Keyboard I: Ross Scott Rawlings, Nathan Scavilla
Keyboard II: Reenie Codelka, Catina McLagan, and Ann Prizzi
Trumpet: Mike Barber, Tony Neenan
Reeds/Woodwinds: Steve Haaser, Charlene McDaniel, and Katie Ravenwood
French Horn: Heidi Brown, Al Rise, Clinton Soisson, Sarah Soisson
Drums/Percussion: Bob LaForce, Brett Schatz


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