Last December, Olney Theatre Center had started performances of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in Olney, Maryland when the COVID-19 variants sadly shut down the production.
This fall, the same cast takes another crack at the Disney classic from Nov. 9 to Jan. 1.
WTOP caught up with Jade Jones (Belle) and Evan Ruggiero (The Beast) for a preview.
“Our production got cut short about a week-and-a-half to two weeks due to COVID,” Ruggiero said. “After it closed, we were sitting around and received a message from the artistic director who said, ‘I have a great idea. Why don’t we just do it again next year?'”
It was welcome to news for family, friends and local theatergoers who missed it last year.
“People were so upset that they didn’t get to see it,” Jones said. “My entire family was scheduled to attend the day after Christmas, so they didn’t get to see it. I had personal messages from fans like, ‘Are you guys going to do this again? Is it streaming? Where can I see this?’ The theater got an influx of requests about that, so back by popular demand.”
This time, there’s “something there that wasn’t there before” — the mourning of Angela Lansbury, who died last month and who voiced Mrs. Potts in the 1991 animated version.
“I first saw ‘Beauty and the Beast’ when I was 4 years old and I wore out the cassette tape … hearing her sing ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ the title song, and just watching Belle and the Beast dance in background of the ballroom,” Ruggiero said. “It really is just this testament to her life and her career and what she was able to pass on to everyone.”
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?
“A spell was cast on a young prince that turns him into a beast and basically he has a certain amount of time to find love before the spell is permanent,” Jones said. “It just so happens that a girl named Belle is also an outsider; her entire town thinks that she’s odd. She’s looking for adventure, looking for mystery and winds up at the castle of The Beast.”
While the classic story is a familiar tale as old as time, the two lead actors expand the roles to fresh demographics that you may not have seen before.
“I have one leg,” Ruggiero said. “I navigate the stage with a peg leg, so this is a role that I never thought that I would actually get to play. I didn’t see myself as The Beast, but in this story, we really analyze what beauty is. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
“I identify with that as well,” Jones said. “I have not seen a Belle that has represented me, so it feels really refreshing to see two people that we haven’t really seen these body types or these physical abilities or whatever in these roles that more people can identity with.”
They’re surrounded by a stellar supporting cast of Olney favorites, including Michael Burrell as Gaston, Kelli Blackwell as Mrs. Potts, Dylan Arredondo as Cogsworth, and Bobby Smith as Lumiere, who is “a ball of fun, a candlestick of fun,” Ruggiero said.
Best of all, the show boasts all of your favorite Disney songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman from 1991, including “Be Our Guest,” “Belle” and the Oscar-winning title song “Beauty and the Beast,” as well as additional numbers from the 1994 Broadway version.
“All the great songs, dances and costumes,” Ruggiero said. “We’d love to see you.”