Who doesn’t love a dazzling musical? There’s nothing like a live production with all of your favorite songs, winsome choreography, eye-popping sets and just sheer fun oozing out of each and every side of the stage in front of you. So when Chicago Shakespeare Theater announced it would be bringing back its popular summer musical after a two-year absence — and with Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, no less — there was no doubt it would be a hit. Yet this production has even more to cheer about because leading the cast in the titular role of Belle will be Aurora native Audrey Hare. Based in New York City, Hare attended Benet Academy in Lisle, majoring in Music Theatre. She went on to pursue the same study at Baldwin Wallace University, graduating with a Bachelor of Music in 2020.
Her appearance in this summer’s production of Beauty and The Beast marks her well deserved Chicago Theater debut. And with laudable turns in productions like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and a Victoria Bussert concert production of South Pacific, something tells me this is just the first of many.
Add that to the bounty of artistic and production merits that this production will bring, and you’ve got a recipe for an exhilarating time in the theater summer. Starting off with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and a book by Linda Woolverton, this 75-minute version of the Academy Award-winning film and Tony Award-winning stage musical is already several paces ahead of the game. The story is filled with a cast of lovable characters and imaginative sets, and who can resist a fairy tale? This one recounts the story of Belle, a spirited young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is actually a prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end, and he will be transformed into his former self. But time is running out. If the lessons aren’t learned soon, the Beast and his household will be doomed for all eternity to remain in their present states.
One of the biggest assets this production enjoys is Amber Mak, one of Chicago’s most sought-after musical theater directors. Man will direct and choreograph the production this summer, and with credits like directing and choreography for Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure in 2021 and the choreographing the American premiere of Nell Gwynn, Chicago Shakespeare Theater audiences are in excellent hands.
She has directed frequently at Drury Lane, Marriott Theatre, where she’s currently helming Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, and Paramount Theatre, where her many credits include The Sound of Music, Rock of Ages, Hairspray, The Wizard of Oz (for which she received a Jeff Award nomination for Best Director), Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and choreographing the world premiere, The Secret of My Success.
Complimenting Audrey Hare’s as Belle in this production will be Jason Michael Evans in the role of the Beast. Cast as the bewitched inhabitants of the Beast’s castle will be Christopher Kale Jones as Lumiere, James Earl Jones II as Cogsworth, Harriet Nzinga Plumpp as Madame de la Grande Bouche, Rebecca Prescott as Mrs. Potts, Maya Rowe as Babette, and Evie Hsu and Layla Joan as Chip at alternating performances. David Sajewich will play the self-absorbed Gaston, with Sam Linda as his bumbling sidekick Le Fou, and Michael Kingston plays Belle’s father Maurice. Also in the cast are Emily Ann Brooks, Maggie Malaney, and Aalon Smith as Les Filles de la Ville, Tim Foszcz as Monsieur D’Arque, and Maxel McLoud Schingen in the production’s ensemble. Understudies include Halle Bins, Eric Desnoyers, Alley Ellis, Sadie Fridley, Daniel Houle, Nathan Karnik, and Kevin Kuska.
Mal is buttressed by a wildly talented creative team that includes the production’s creative team includes Charlotte Rivard-Hoster (music director), Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic designer), Theresa Ham (costume designer), Jason Lynch (lighting designer), Mike Tutaj (projection designer), Sarah Ramos (sound designer), and Heidi Joosten (orchestrator and assistant music director), among a host of other local production specialists all at the top of their game.
Disney’s Beauty and The Beast will certainly make for an incredibly enjoyable life stage experience for multi-generational family audiences this summer. Chicago Shakespeare Theater offers a top-tier theatergoing experience of the highest quality, introducing live performance to young audiences and beginning a life-long love of theater every day. The Theater has engaged hundreds of thousands of young people over the years through musicals in the summer, abridged productions of Shakespeare plays, and Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks performances in partnership with neighborhood arts organizations across the city.
Disney’s Beauty and The Beast runs at Chicago Shakespeare Theater July 14 through August 20, 2023, with performances on Wednesdays at 11:00 a.m., Thursdays-Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. After each performance, audiences have the opportunity to meet costumed members of the cast in the lobby for conversation, autographs, and photos.