Review: An Enchanting “Beauty and the Beast”

There’s much to enjoy in the national touring production of Beauty and the Beast, the vibrant musical that just wrapped three performances at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown.

Actress Hilary Maiberger as Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Credit: Joan Marcus
Actress Hilary Maiberger as Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Credit: Joan Marcus

This production is a colorful, energetic romp anchored by the warm and sincere performance from its lead, Hilary Maiberger, who as the Beauty of the title, embodies the spirit of Belle, capturing her kindness and curiosity.

The plot is familiar. As punishment for his selfishness, a young prince is transformed into a monstrous Beast (Darick Pead), while his servants turn into household items. To break the spell, the Beast must learn to love another and earn her love in return, or else remain in his new form for eternity. Years later, Belle, a bookish but beautiful girl from a quiet village, longs for more than her provincial life while also fending off the advances of narcissistic man-about-town Gaston (Tim Rogan). When her father is captured by the Beast, Belle volunteers to serve as prisoner in his place. As they adjust to life together within the castle walls, Belle and the Beast let down walls of their own, and learn there is more to beauty than meets the eye.

At the Friday evening performance, the theater was with little “princesses,” many donning poofy dresses and crowns. This segment of the audience was most amused by the goofier aspects of the show, like the tumbles and pratfalls of Gaston’s sycophantic sidekick LeFou (Jordan Aragon) and the Beast’s bratty attempts to win Belle’s affections. The grown-up crowd seemed to enjoy the play’s quieter moments, such as Belle teaching the Beast to read. Memorable numbers include the showstopper “Be Our Guest,” a grandiose ode to good hosting punctuated by high-kicking dinner plates, twirling flatware and a burst of shiny streamers. Another highlight is Belle’s “A Change in Me,” a soaring number about how adventure comes in many forms.

The 1991 Disney film was the first animated movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, while the Broadway production garnered numerous Tony and Drama Desk nominations following its opening in 1994. The play made a few improvements upon the film. In the stage version, should the Beast’s quest for love prove unsuccessful, the servants will lose all of their humanity, remaining motionless objects. This change ups the stakes—the servants have just as much to gain—and lose—as the Beast, which makes their enthusiasm for Belle understandable and a little sad. All in all, Beauty and the Beast is a delightful, sweet diversion that will leave you charmed.

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