Mere days before the pandemic hit in 2020, Evan Ruggiero auditioned for an Olney Theatre production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The 32-year-old, who performs, even tap dances, with a prosthesis in place of the lower right leg lost to cancer years ago, would soon learn that his childhood dream of playing the Beast was going to come true — eventually. The pandemic caused the show’s run to be delayed by a full year.
Then, after it finally opened last year, COVID’s Delta surge in December forced the show to close early, about halfway through its planned run.
That, coupled with the attention generated by the production as a result of its non-traditional approach to casting, inspired Olney to remount the production, directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge.
“This magical production had a nationally recognized impact on the thousands of kids and adults who saw it last year,” Olney’s Artistic Director Jason Loewith said in the official release.
“But thousands more lost their chance…so we’re bringing it back, and it’ll be even better than before. Jade Jones and Evan Ruggiero return to prove, powerfully and proudly, that every one of us is beautiful.”
“We have a lot of inclusiveness and diversity in the production, and I am just so happy to be a part of it, and to be sharing this story with people who have never seen the show,” Ruggiero told Metro Weekly last year.
“If you look at the movie, the Beast is a wildebeest; he’s this animal. And Belle is this brunette, skinny white girl. And then you come to our production, and you see Jade Jones, a plus-sized Black woman, as Belle, and me, being an amputee, as Beast. And kids are just like, ‘What? Wow! That guy has one leg! Oh my gosh.’ They’re really engaged in the story. And at the end, they’re just cheering and standing up.”
Critics also cheered on the production. While taking issue with the choreography and some of the costuming, the Washington Post‘s Celia Wren was otherwise charmed by the show and especially its cast — with the female lead coming in for the most arduous praise.
“Jones is the standout in this iteration of the Alan Menken-scored musical,” Wren wrote in her review. “Jones’s superb performance raises Belle to a new level,” with a portrayal that she “endows with both here-and-now vividness and once-upon-a-time allure.”
Through Jan. 2, 2022 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Md. Tickets are $42 to $90. Visit www.olneytheatre.org or call 301-924-3400.