‘Outsiders’ shine in Olney Theatre staging of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes 'Beauty & The Beast' at Olney Theatre (Part 1)

In 1991, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” became the first animated Best Picture Oscar nominee. Now, the timeless tale comes to Olney Theatre Center through Jan. 2.

“Our show is so authentic and original with such heart,” actress Jade Jones told WTOP.

The story follows a poor, provincial bookworm named Belle, who becomes imprisoned by a Beast that is actually a wealthy prince transformed into a monster to reflect his ugly selfishness on the inside. Can he win Belle’s love before the last rose petal falls to seal his beastly fate? Or will the narcissistic brute Gaston spoil their plans as he woos Belle?

“We meet a young prince, who is not a very nice person, transformed into this hideous creature,” actor Evan Ruggiero said. “We then meet Belle, our female hero, who is out looking for her father after he is snatched up by the Beast. Belle and the Beast meet each other, they get to know each other … and they eventually develop feelings for each other.”

The fantasy themes are timeless to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.

“Two outsiders that their peers consider odd meet and go on a journey together, find home and love in each other,” Jones said. “It’s a testament to not judging a book by its cover.”

The two lead actors expand the roles to demographics you may not have seen before.

“We have never seen Belle played by a plus-sized Black woman,” Ruggiero said. “I am so enamored by what Jade brings. … The original movie is this skinny white girl and this beast who becomes this able-bodied, good-looking guy. … I have one leg. … I feel like we weren’t meant to play these roles, but we were so meant to play these roles!”

They’re surrounded by a stellar supporting cast of Olney favorites.

“We have Iyona Blake playing Mrs. Potts. She’s amazing,” Jones said. “Lumiere is Bobby Smith, a D.C. legend. He is not only an amazing actor and singer, but an incredible dancer. I feel like I am living my Disney fantasy with Bobby. Jess Ball is one of the scene stealers as Wardrobe. Her comedic timing is spot on. She has an incredible voice.”

“Dylan Arredondo is playing Cogsworth,” Ruggiero said. “I spend a lot of time with him on stage, as well as Bobby Smith as Lumiere, so the three of us have a lot of fun. Michael Burrell plays Gaston. We only get to share the stage at the end, but he is a great guy.”

The show boasts all of your favorite songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.

“There’s the top of the show number, ‘Belle,’ with all the townies describing Belle,” Jones said. “‘Be Our Guest,’ ‘Something There,’ ‘Gaston,’ the pub song and [the title song]. You’ve never heard that song the way that our Mrs. Potts sings it. I’m supposed to be in utter bliss during that moment, but almost every night I’m brought to tears.”

The songbook also includes additional numbers written for the 1994 Broadway version.

“There’s the song that Evan sings so well, one of my favorite musical theater songs, ‘If I Can’t Love Her,'” Jones said. “There’s also ‘Home.’ … I shared my version the other day and it’s gone viral. … The video that I posted myself has almost 40,000 views on Instagram, not to mention I just made a TikTok … and it has over 20,000 views.”

Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge (Olney Theatre’s “Once”) brings it all to life visually.

“The castle is stunning,” Jones said. “We have a huge chandelier that is brought in. As stunning and grand as it is, it’s actually very minimal. It throws me for a loop sometimes how little we have to do to change the castle into the pub or the woods or outside of Belle’s house. It’s all encompassed in this one set that Narelle [Sissons] designed.”

What about the famous rose petals functioning as a ticking clock?

“We don’t actually have the rose petal as an object. We have a stained-glass window with rose petals and as the show progresses, you see each light on the rose go out,” Ruggiero said. “Then there’s a giant staircase. I think it may have 15 or 17 steps. That staircase can actually get retracted into the wall … [for] when we go to the town where Belle lives.”

The detailed hair, makeup and wardrobe add to the magical presentation.

“One of the cool things that Marcia, our director, and Ivania [Stack], our costume designer, got to talk about was how we’re going to work in my prosthetic leg,” Ruggiero said. “I didn’t think it needed any gimmicks or anything. I didn’t want to hide anything, so I use this wooden peg-leg, then on my left leg I have this very furry, beast leg with a hoof on it.”

Belle’s outfit is also notably different, going for realism over fashion.

“I get to wear pants,” Jones said. “The quintessential blue dress has been replaced by a blue jumpsuit, which is far more comfortable for me to go trampling through the woods looking for my father. It makes sense that you have this girl who is brave and craves adventure — why is she walking around in a tight little dress?”

It all adds up to a perfect show to see with your family over the holidays.

“Come on out and join us,” Jones said. “You’re going to have a lot of fun, you might get a little emotional, you’re going to want to sing, you’re definitely going to want to dance.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes 'Beauty & The Beast' at Olney Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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