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Latest ‘Beast’ a real beauty at Chicago Shakespeare

The Beast (William Travis Taylor) Belle (Emily Rohm) make fine pair Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s productiDisney’s “Beauty Beast.” | Provided Photo

The Beast (William Travis Taylor) and Belle (Emily Rohm) make a fine pair in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” | Provided Photo

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‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’

HIGHLY
RECOMMENDED

♦ Through Aug. 26

♦ Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier

♦ Tickets: $18-$25

♦ (312) 595-5600;
chicagoshakes.com

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Updated: August 14, 2012 6:09AM



When it comes to family entertainment, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater never scrimps and never dumbs down. A case in pint: The splendid production of Disney’s hit musical, “The Beauty and the Beast,” that is its big new summer offering.

The show’s director-choreographer (Rachel Rockwell) is pure A-list, as is the large, marvelously gifted cast, and the musical director (Doug Peck), who oversees a small but mighty “orchestra.” Also top of the line is the entire design team, with Scott Davis (sets) and Mike Tutaj (projections) forging a particularly innovative collaboration.

In fact, only two aspects of this production have been “trimmed back,” and in both cases these cuts turn out to be great bonuses.

First, while the Broadway edition of this show — with its exuberant score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and a book by Linda Woolverton — ran a solid two hours and 30 minutes, the Chicago Shakespeare production marks the professional premiere of Disney’s happily intermissionless 75-minute version. And not only is nothing lost in terms of storytelling or character development in this condensation, but the show now has a beguiling immediacy that works in its favor. In addition, Rockwell, who began her career as a choreographer, brings a dynamism and clarity to everything and everyone in this story about how, in one way or another, people are desperately seeking to be more human and to find greater acceptance.

Second, there is the matter of ticket prices. While Broadway seats could easily exceed the $100 mark, at Chicago Shakespeare you can have a far more intimate experience, with the highest production values, and nab a ticket for as low as $18 and not more than $25.

William Travis Taylor (ideally costumed and masked by Theresa Ham and Melissa Veal) brings a believable authority and pain to the role of the Prince who has been transformed into a Beast as punishment for his lack of compassion and decency, and who now must learn how to love, and become truly human. And with her crystalline voice and storybook face, Emily Rohm is a lovely, unaffected Belle — the passionately bookish girl who always feels like an outsider in her provincial town, who is deeply devoted to her eccentric dad (Roger Mueller), and who deftly fends off the advances of the brainless, narcissistic town hunk, Gaston (Jake Klinkhammer is a hoot). As Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou, the peerless (and ageless) Andrew Lupp, is a somersaulting, pratfall-taking wonder who in many ways is the loopy engine of the show.

The Beast’s household fixtures (rendered inanimate as part of the curse on their master), are enchanting, with Bernie Yvon as the effusive Lumiere, David Lively as the droll Cogsworth, Mary Ernster as the heat-giving teapot, Mrs. Potts, Joelle Lamarre as the formidable Madame de la Grande Bouche and Emilie Lynn as the curvy maid/chanteuse, Babette. The town’s exuberant trio of Silly Girls — Rebecca Pink, Maggie Portman and Laura Savage — are a vocal and comic powerhouse. And Sean Blake is a topnotch villain.

The full cast gathers for the show’s grandest production number, “Be Our Guest,” and it is a doozy, complete with dancing cutlery and fireworks. And the production even finds a terrific low-tech solution for the beast’s transformation back to a prince.

A real beauty of a show that, most crucially of all, never forgets to touch your heart.



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