Beauty and the Beast enchants at Toby’s

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Rebekah Alcalde

Cogsworth (David James), Lumière (Jeremy Scott Blaustein) and company beg Belle, played by Nicki Elledge, to “Be Our Guest” in Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast. The musical is onstage through June 11.
Photo by Teri Tidwell Photography

The tale may be “old as time,” but Beauty and the Beast has seen plenty of new life lately. With the new Disney live-action film setting box office records in movie theaters, fans can get a similar, but more fleshed-out, experience of the musical from the stage version currently at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia.

It features all the beloved original songs from the animated film of 1991 with some notable additions, since it’s based on the Broadway musical production of 1994.

Toby’s Beauty and the Beast is classic Disney fare: It’s a solid performance for young children, but also interesting and amusing enough for adults.

You’re probably familiar with the story — how the beautiful, kind and intelligent Belle falls in love with a frightening melancholy prince cursed by an enchantress to live as an ugly beast because of his arrogant and selfish behavior.

In the story, Belle lives with her aging father Maurice, a quirky but kind and loving inventor. Toby’s veteran Robert John Beidermann plays an especially doddering Maurice. When he gets lost in the woods and is attacked by wolves, it is genuinely moving and sad.

After Maurice wanders into the Beast’s castle and is imprisoned for trespassing, Belle offers to take her father’s place and live in the castle forever. Little does she know that the Beast, his castle, and his many servants are trapped under a spell that only true love can break.

An excellent cast, as usual

In her Toby’s debut, Nicki Elledge is wonderful in the title role of Belle, with her soaring vocals and convincing wide-eyed innocence.

As an iconic character, Belle is a standout among Disney princesses for her love of books and adventure — a love that is frowned on by her small-minded, provincial townsfolk. Elledge’s verses in the song “Belle (Little Town)” are gorgeous, and convey her inherent curiosity and desire for a bigger life.

The show also doesn’t shy away from depicting Belle’s (and many other women’s) real-life fears. She is constantly pursued by the boorish Gaston, who hounds her relentlessly despite her protests. The show does a good job exploring Belle’s discomfort and later panic at his persistence to make her his “little wife.”

David Jennings plays Gaston with gusto, and his strong vocals are a true highlight in “The Mob Song.” But perhaps he relies a bit too heavily on punches to the face of his henchman Lefou.

Jeffrey Shankle plays goofy Lefou splendidly, and provides some much-needed comic relief in their scenes. (Shankle was also our charming server at dinner: Actors wait tables during intermission at Toby’s.)

In the show’s other title role, Russell Sunday beautifully sings the Beast role. His larger-than-life presence and deep booming voice is reminiscent of the phantom from Phantom of the Opera. The plaintive “How Long Must This Go On?” is especially moving.

As stunning as his voice is, though, his acting (or perhaps direction) could use some reexamination. He portrays the Beast as a spoiled and immature child. This is surprising, untraditional, and not a little unsettling. Here is grown man/beast acting like a child, and that makes his budding relationship with Belle uncomfortable at best, and her attraction to him difficult to explain.

Shining supporting roles

As is the case with most Disney stories, the main characters of Beauty and the Beast are written as classic “types,” and it’s the supporting roles that truly “shine” — as is the case with Lumière, the castle’s maitre d’, trapped in the form of a candelabrum.

Actor Jeremy Scott Blaustein is charming and hilarious, and his vocals on “Be Our Guest” are commendable. His costume candle “arms” boast faux flames. Also note, the show isn’t shy regarding his enthusiastic romantic romps with the “French maid” feather duster Babette, played vivaciously by Elizabeth Rayca.

Other notable performances include Lynn Sharp-Spears as teapot Mrs. Potts, and the very young Ethan Lee as the adorable teacup Chip. As an added dose of realism, both their costumes actually steam.

Jane C. Boyle, as opera-singing wardrobe Madame Bouche, is also hilarious, with an equally impressive costume with working drawers that hold clothes.

I’ve saved the best for last: The show standout is David James as Cogsworth, the stuffy clock steward. His presence is perfect in every scene. James doesn’t try to outdo the boisterous fan-favorite Lumière, relying instead on his excellent acting, comedic timing and joke delivery.

One of the most notable differences between the musical and the films is the show’s expansion of the staff storyline. In one scene, Cogsworth is aghast he has “grown” a winding mechanism in his back.

Fears eventually turn to hope in the song “Human Again,” when they realize Belle and the Beast are growing closer — and there’s a chance for their love to break the spell.

Seeing the show

Toby’s theatre-in-the-round creates an engaging, if sometimes dizzying, experience (as the actors and dancers spin around to meet all eyes in the audience). The show requires fairly complex stage placement (or blocking), but every actor hits their marks and their spotlights.

And there are many spotlights. Actually, there are over 400 light changes and cues in this show, according to the introduction by actor Robert John Beidermann. Before the show begins, he called for applause for the light designer Lynn Joslin.

Beauty and the Beast continues through Sunday, June 11 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, located at 5900 Symphony Woods Rd. in Columbia.

The show runs seven days a week, with evening and matinee performances. Doors open at 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, for dinner prior to the evening performances, which start at 8 p.m. For Sunday evening performances, which begin at 7 p.m., doors open at 5 p.m. for dinner.

On Wednesdays and Sundays, there are matinee performances. Doors open for brunch at 10:30 a.m., with shows beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Reservations are required. Ticket prices range from $43.50 (for children under 12) to $62, depending on the performance. Ticket prices include all-you-can-eat buffet dinner or brunch, tea and coffee.

Toby’s buffet offers something for everyone. Our meal featured shrimp cocktail, prime rib, roast potatoes, a variety of vegetables and salads, and more. Cake and unlimited ice cream are also included.

For more information or to reserve tickets, call (410) 730-8311 or visit www.tobys dinnertheatre.com.