Theater Review: Happily Ever After with ‘Beauty and the Beast’

My favorite aspect of live theater is its ability to move people, to make us feel a part of something special. That’s exactly how I felt as I watched the magical world of Disney brought to life at the Patchogue Theater with Gateway Playhouse’s production of Beauty and the Beast. The story is a timeless classic about finding love in the most unlikely of places. A story where good overcomes evil and, yes, everyone lives happily ever after.

At the heart of the production is the music—those memorable tunes we all associate with this heartwarming story. The songs would be nothing without the talent behind them, and a cast to do the music and lyrics justice.

Our beloved heroine Belle, aptly named of course, dreams of princes in far-off castles that she reads about in her books. As a cartoon character on screen, it’s easy to be perfect, and you would think to be a challenge to create this icon on stage. I was struck with how perfect Melissa Mitchell was compared to the image of Belle I had created in my mind. Mitchell’s voice was something to hear, clear as a bell (pun intended), powerful, controlled and vibrating with each emotion evoked in her character. The audience—myself included—was spellbound each time she sang.

The makeup work on Loren Christopher, who portrays our princely Beast, is so well done it almost does look real. From his ghastly horns to his protruding fanged underbite, who, indeed could ever learn to love such a beast? Christopher plays an interesting version of the beast, one that you may not expect. The theatrical version of our Beast was more comical and less brooding, providing a lot of laughs for the audience to enjoy. Christopher’s presence as the Beast is no less intimidating, however, and is quite frightening at times. His deep voice is melodious and intriguing, and, along with our Belle, we all slowly fall in love with this mysterious and tragic Beast.

We love this classic not just for the Beast and his Belle, but also for characters such as the fun and lovable Lumiere, played by Andy Redeker. I swear he sounded just like the character from the movie. His raw French accent was spot-on, and the “Be My Guest” number was everything you could want and more. At first you may wonder how a scene like that could be recreated on stage, but I was not disappointed—the colors and energy of the cast brought this fantastical number to life, and I was definitely dancing in my seat, grinning from ear-to-ear.

The villain in this story is Gaston, of course, and I couldn’t help but love the way Joe Hager portrayed him, bringing the cartoon character to spectacular life. Every aspect of Gaston, from his arrogant swagger to his ever-upraised (and very black) eyebrow, was the total package, and I loved every second of his performance.

When Belle steps out in that signature golden gown on the night she and the Beast almost declare their mutual love for each other, you could hear a collective “Ahh” from the audience. Katherine Pecevich as the adorable Mrs. Potts sings the timeless song of “Beauty and the Beast” as the lovebirds dance around the floor. I could feel the chills running across my skin. It was as amazing as the film version, but even more breathtaking live.

The battle scene with the villagers and the castle staff is hilarious, and it ends with a just-in-time, heart-wrenching declaration of love from Belle, as she watches her Beast die, and then become a handsome prince, right before her eyes.

The set was fantastic, the costumes were Broadway caliber and the cast was what truly brought to life this fantasy of love and magic. It’s the perfect way to remember what this time of year is about—the strength and power of love.

Gateway’s stunning production of Beauty and the Beast plays at the Patchogue Theater through December 29. Children attend for free with the purchase of an adult ticket, making it easier to share some magic with your family this holiday season.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit pacsc.org.

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