As managing executive producer Marilynn Wick readily concedes in her pre-show speech, she has purposely aimed her summer show, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, at youngsters and at developing an audience of tots.
Then she has chosen well, with one of the Mouse Factory’s most popular animated features, transformed into the company’s first Broadway venture in 1994, a crowd-pleasing stage musical that ran for more than 13 years. And with its zeal for recycling, this year Disney released a live-action version of the tale, which quickly became the highest-grossing movie of 2017.
Even kids familiar with the story and the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman score (with additional lyrics by Tim Rice) should be enthralled by this encounter at The Wick, a worthy introduction to live theater. Adults may have a little difficulty adjusting to the cartoonish tone that director Dom Ruggiero has set, but erring on that side is understandable.
The classic fable has much in common with Phantom of the Opera, both yarns about a comely damsel held captive by a powerful ogre with whom she – shades of the Stockholm syndrome – ultimately falls in love. In this case, he is a callous prince who previously rejected a request for shelter from an old hag – you guessed it, a lovely sorceress in disguise – who condemns him to life as a beast or until he demonstrates that he has learned the meaning of love.
Besides the spectacle, adaptor Linda Wolverton plants plenty of positive messages in her script. In addition to the theme of not judging someone by his appearance, she makes Belle an empowered, can-do heroine with an affection for books and reading.
The show calls for lots of scenic and graphics bells and whistles and on these The Wick has not stinted. Huge sets, led by a central, stage-high revolving unit takes us throughout the beast’s castle lair. The ever-inventive Josieu Jean provides visual projections as needed, including a storybook prologue of how the creature came to be. Sequences with a pack of wolves have never been particularly effective onstage, but here Jean solves the problem by returning them to their animation roots.
Despite the design razzle-dazzle, the show would never have its emotional punch without its surprisingly sophisticated score. It begins with a classic “want” song, in which Belle yearns for something “more than this provincial life” as we are introduced to the French village community.
Other highlights include the pull-out-the-stops production number, “Be Our Guest,” sung by the castle’s cutlery and dinnerware, the Beast’s Act I finale of inner yearning, “If I Can’t Love Her,” and, of course, the Oscar-winning title tune. Also note the clever Ashman lyrics to “Human Again,” a number written for the original animated feature which made it to preliminary drawings, but ultimately cut out.
Loren Christopher has played the Beast previously and understands the challenge of emoting underneath thick, dark make-up where his eyes do most of the work. The show really belongs to Belle and here to the lovely Mallory Newbrough, who brings a humanizing quality to the role as well as a forceful voice to her power ballads.
If your taste runs to broad comedy, you will get a great kick out of Jacob Thompson and Courter Simmons as the muscle-bound, pompadoured doofus Gaston and his baggy-pantsed sidekick Lefou. Angie Radosh is a nicely maternal Mrs. Potts, few could hold a candle to Jonathan Van Dyke’s Lumiere and Emily Tarallo is a bit of ooh-la-la as French maid Babette.
The show requires some very specific novelty costumes, which Kimberly Wick has gathered and adapted from Costume World’s stock. (But aren’t those fugitive duds from A Chorus Line sticking out in the “Be Our Guest” number?) And yes, it must be noted that with all the expense that went into this production, The Wick still insists on settling for recorded music.
None of this is likely to get in the way of children’s enjoyment of Beauty and the Beast. And this summer at The Wick, that is what it is all about.
DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, July 9. $85, children 12 and under, $45. 561-995-2333.