By Hayley Asai, Quince Orchard High School
Just under 30 years have passed since Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” first fascinated theatergoers with its fantastical interpretation of the classic fairytale. But Tuscarora High School’s production presents like a well-worn but beloved book, bursting with familiar joys while still enthralling the viewer with a refreshing take.
It’s heartfelt and hilarious, glamorous and reminiscent of the dazzling original production, masterfully executed and ravishing visually. Beauty and the Beast is the pinnacle of what theatre can provide: an honest chuckle, a genuinely good time, and one of Disney’s most beloved musicals stunningly executed — and refined — to reflect the humanity at the core of the show.
The impassioned bookworm facing her adventure of a lifetime? Played with captivating skill by Claudia Hunn. She’s down-to-earth and adventurous, rather than an ingenue, as first written. Hunn’s Belle had an organic emotional depth that grounded the show and appealed to the raw emotion the story is capable of. Her Belle was a compassionate yet logical protagonist, mirroring the Beast’s rage right back at him and soaring gracefully through the score — all while simply caring for her father.
Meanwhile, Patrick Hensley’s astonishingly fiery portrayal of Prince Adam (the Beast), at first stubborn and a temperamental man-child, skillfully manipulated his acting to smartly transform the character into a gentle and caring love interest while simultaneously executing the difficult score.
The rest of the beloved castle objects? They’re just as whimsical as the original, like the Candelabra, Lumiere, (played by Tyler Steeprow) who tap danced his way through the showstopping number “Be Our Guest.” Likewise, when Mrs. Potts, played by Victoria Ezumah, started in with the gentle first notes of the time-honored song “Beauty and the Beast,” there was a fascinating refinement to it that flirted with perfection.
Gaston’s incompetent right-hand-man Lefou, played by Amanda Anthony, swaggered around onstage and remarked idiotically, deftly reminding the audience why the character’s name means “the fool.” Anthony was so humorous and so confident in the role, viewing their performance was a privilege unto itself. Likewise, Babette, aptly portrayed by Queen Kincaide, delivered just the right amount of flirt and sass. Kincaid and Steeprow’s chemistry crackled with electricity as they chased each other across the stage and quipped back and forth as long-time partners would.
The towering set created by Rachael Giessmann was imaginative, grand, and whimsical in visual surprise, a stunning gothic edifice with brilliant stained glass. The castle and quaint village transported audiences into the marvelous world of 18th century France. Similarly, the refined and dazzling costumes, designed by Claudia Hunn, Eliza Noyd, and Lukas Sandoval were a spectacle to behold. The team’s work featured stunning gowns for Belle, an impressive array of cutlery for the castle objects, and historically inspired details on all the pieces.
The production beautifully spotlighted Menken’s lush score, with its orchestra situated in the aisle in front of the stage. Chris Claudio-Segovia played the flute and piccolo with an arresting delicacy and fragility. Percussionist Jayden Bruce also played alongside the rest of the orchestra with masterful talent that elevated the entire sound of the production.
“Beauty and the Beast” has always been at the heart of what it means to prioritize compassion and kindness. But rarely has our need for hope and empathy seemed as crucial and pressing as it does right now. Like any classic, “Beauty and the Beast” should provide the ever-insightful reminder to the audience that patience and understanding can always be spared. And Tuscarora’s impeccable production of “Beauty and the Beast” does exactly that.
[This review of the May 7 performance of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Tuscarora High School is part of a series published in a partnership between Loudoun Now and The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theater and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]