BETHESDA — A production of “Beauty and the Beast” is currently running at Bethesda’s Imagination Stage. The play is based on the Disney adaptation of the fairy tale and features song numbers from the movie.
Although the audience is primarily children, “Beauty and the Beast” is acted and sung talentedly, making the story enjoyable for anyone. Many of the movie’s elements are portrayed onstage, including the music, the likenesses of the characters, and the main plot, making this production feel familiar to anyone who has seen the Disney film.
Jessica Lauren Ball plays the intelligent Belle, who, like her movie counterpart, sings beautifully and contrasts with both the antics of Gaston (Tiziano D’Affuso) and the unsociable Beast (Matthew Schleigh).
David Landstrom as Gaston’s partner Lefou performs a great comedic foil to D’Affuso’s character and mimics the scratchy voice of the original Disney character perfectly. Jobari Parker-Namdar as Lumiere and Matt Dewberry as Cogsworth also hit it off, providing comedic relief whenever their characters clash.
All of the music numbers are fantastically recreated as the cast harmonizes and dances with one another. “Be Our Guest,” possibly one of the most anticipated songs, lives up to its expectations as Parker-Namdar leads the cast with bright singing and dancing.
The Belle-Beast relationship, which is the driving force and central part of the story, is recreated well, providing both humorous and tender moments during the dinner and dancing scene and when the Beast presents his gift to Belle. Although their relationship feels a tad rushed, key moments solidly portray growth in their relationship.
The play also succeeds in portraying Belle as a strong and interesting character who is not dependent on other characters. Moments when she explains that she uses her imagination to read books to Gaston or when the Beast understands her fascination with stories deepens her personality and emphasizes her as a positive role model.
Belle’s interest in tales and literature is also a storytelling tool that makes “Beauty and the Beast” meta, or self-referential. The story of Belle and the Beast, a “tale as old as time” is a fairy tale that Director Kathryn Chase Bryer cites from author Bruno Bettelheim to be a form of “cultural heritage” that helps children find meaning in life.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a story about adversity and courage, showing how fairytales help people relate to overcoming struggle in life and discovering something new. Showing the reason for Belle’s fascination with stories as she plays out her own drama emphasizes the power of fairy tales and reiterates the purpose of Belle’s own story.
In addition, Jason Arnold’s lighting choices adds to the mood and magic of the play. The prologue of the prince’s transformation into the Beast and the ending kiss are acted out behind a screen so that only the silhouette of the characters can be seen. Beginning and ending the play with these silhouettes add to the storybook magic of “Beauty and the Beast”.
Imagination Stage’s “Beauty and the Beast” runs through Jan. 15. Address: 4908 Auburn Ave, Bethesda, 20814. Tickets: $12-$30 (check imaginationstage.org for details.) Phone: (301) 280-1660.