Discover the charm and grandeur of Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast' at Riverside

By JESSE SCOTT FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR - Oct 3, 2018

“Song as old as rhyme ... Beauty and the Beeeeaaaaaaaaast!”

You know the lyrics. You’ve seen the iconic Disney flick. And now, it’s time to experience it live.

Through Nov. 25, “Beauty and the Beast” and all of its timeless glory is at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Directed by Riverside’s producing artistic director Patrick A’Hearn, this one is full of storybook and “once upon a time” charm.

“I remember as a kid when my parents would pull out a book and read to me at night ... and I wonder how much of that goes on in today’s society, with so much these days on a Kindle or phones,” said A’Hearn. “It’s a different world we’re living in, but this show has a lot of heart, getting back to the core of the story and the basics of telling a great story.”

If you need a refresher on that “Beauty and the Beast” story, it’s zoomed in on the beautiful Belle as well as the Beast, who was once a handsome prince but was turned into a monster by a sorceress. To become human again, the Beast must learn how to love and also be loved in return. And, of course, there are a number of lovable characters along the way: Lumière, Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth, to name a few.

When folks step foot in the Riverside theater, they’ll immediately feel the grand, storybook vibe, with big gold letters proclaiming “once upon a time” through a unique scrim. The magic continues through the scenery, colorfully depicting everything from haunting woods to the castle where the Beast is holding Belle’s captured father, Maurice.

“The visuals are just incredible, and the scenery moves quick,” said A’Hearn, who was also in a production of “Beauty in the Beast” himself 12 years ago at Riverside. “The crew works so hard on this show ... constantly running to move our huge, grand staircase, which is positioned in many ways, as well as our furniture.”

In total, Riverside’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” boasts a cast of 28, including a number of Riverside vets as well as newbies. Making her début at Riverside and playing Belle is Nicki Elledge, a Catholic University grad who recently performed as part of the national tour of Broadway’s “Amazing Grace.”

“I have played Belle before. I’ve done it in a much smaller space,” she said. “And now we’re in this huge theater, with a lot of different pieces flying in and out. And, there is sort of this pop-up book feel—it makes it new for me for sure. And, I’m a brunette now, which is natural for me and I don’t have to wear a wig.”

For Elledge, playing such an iconic character as Belle comes naturally.

“Putting the costume on helps, and certainly the build-up at the beginning of the show, hearing that story and the music is always so wonderful,” she said. “[Belle] has such a big heart, is curious and loves adventure.”

Playing her counterpart and the Beast is Riverside vet Wyn Delano. “Beauty and the Beast” marks his fifth production at Riverside; his prior credits include “Oklahoma” and “The Buddy Holly Story,” among others. Delano first met Elledge on the national tour of “Amazing Grace,” as he played the part of Major Gray in the show as well.

For this show, Delano is bringing, well, a lot of beastly mannerisms to his character.

“There are very few roles where you can go from a literal monster to someone who is liked and loved by the audience,” he said. “I have a very distinct speaking voice, that’s something I bring to the Beast. And, I’ve really worked on the physicality. What I’ve seen of this show elsewhere is that there’s a big costume get-up and then they’re just walking around like a person. My movements are grounded in a certain off-balance, and uncomfortable of sorts manner.”

Already Delano and others in the show are seeing firsthand the impact “Beauty and the Beast” is making on audiences.

“The kids who see this show are just loving it,” said Delano. “The other night, we had a young girl that was 6 or 7 sitting next to the orchestra pit, dressed looking like Belle. At the end of the show, she came up to my wife [Leigh Delano, who is the music director], and it was the best thing ever. She pointed to the orchestra and said, ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up.’ She now has an interest in music all because she got to sit next to the orchestra.”

Periodically a show can carry so much more meaning than simple entertainment. Given the quality and timing of “Beauty and the Beast” at Riverside, this is certainly one of those moments.

“We have a great obligation as producers and actors to hold the attention of our audience for two or three hours, and sometimes take them away from difficult world we live in and make them forget,” said A’Hearn. “Especially with everything going on in the world—there is such a great message of acceptance of here. And we know folks will enjoy it.”

Jesse Scott is a freelance writer and Fredericksburg native.