A musical homecoming for Susan Egan

PLAY REVIEW /// ‘Beauty and the Beast’

SOMETHING THERE— Susan Egan as Belle and David Gilchrist as her father, Maurice, in “Beauty and the Beast” by 5-Star Theatricals. Courtesy ofEd Krieger

SOMETHING THERE— Susan Egan as Belle and David Gilchrist as her father, Maurice, in “Beauty and the Beast” by 5-Star Theatricals. Courtesy ofEd Krieger

It was both a homecoming and a farewell for Susan Egan on July 19 when, for the first time in 22 years, she took to the stage as Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Five-Star Theatricals’ production, running through Sun., July 29 at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, is under the direction of Yvette Lawrence, who succeeded Egan as Belle during the show’s initial Los Angeles run at the old Shubert Theatre.

In 1994, Egan made her Broadway debut in the groundbreaking “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s first Broadway production. Like her character, Egan felt out of place, the new kid on the block in her first Broadway appearance, surrounded by such theater veterans as Terrence Mann (the Beast), Tom Bosley (Maurice) and Gary Beach (Lumière). Five-Star’s production is dedicated to the memory of Beach, who died July 17.

Five-Star’s production is everything it should be, with stellar performances, visually sumptuous sets and costumes, and a ravishing 19-piece orchestra.

During Saturday’s talkback session, Egan recalled her 1994 debut: “The movie had only come out about three years prior and everybody already knew and loved this character so all you had to do was walk out in a blue dress and they were already with you. But because the show was longer than the movie, this gave us the opportunity to tell more about Belle.”

At first, Egan, 48, turned down 5-Star’s offer to return to her role. “But then I had a dream about Cathy Rigby, who was 60 the last time she played Peter Pan, and I thought to myself, ‘Gee, I still want to see Cathy Rigby.’ I have a husband now and two little girls, 8 and 11, who didn’t exist when I was doing this the first time and this was the last possible chance for me to do it. What surprised me the most was how it was all still totally there in all those brain cells, which is probably why I don’t remember names well. It was just like putting on a favorite pair of jeans.”

The warm, onstage relationship between Egan and David Gilchrist, who plays Belle’s eccentric father Maurice, is readily apparent. Gilchrist, a seasoned Australian-born character actor, has appeared in many Ventura County shows, usually as cuddly grandfatherly types, but he’s never been better as he is here. His scenes with Egan show a palpable tenderness and mutual affection that goes beyond their characters’ relationship.

The extraordinary cast includes Jason Chacon in a powerful, sensitive performance as the Beast, delivering the show’s emotional highlight, an exquisite rendering of “If I Can’t Love Her.”

Adam Hollick is the perfect Gaston, the muscle-bound, muscle-headed would-be suitor of Belle who is easily able to toggle between an egotistical feminist’s nightmare and a malevolent bully. Justin Cowden is uproarious as Lefou, who gives new meaning to the word “sidekick” due to his physical maltreatment by Gaston.

Marc Ginsburg is so good as Lumière, the anthropomorphic candelabra, that when the song cue for “Be Our Guest” came up, the audience erupted into an anticipatory ovation before it even started.

Gregory North (Cogsworth), Devon Davidson (Babette) and Nandani Sinha (Madame de la Grande Bouche) also turn in spectacular performances. As Mrs. Potts, understudy Sarah Marie filled in admirably for Tracy Ray Reynolds, who broke her wrist.

With Cheryl Baxter’s stunning choreography, Beth Glasner’s lavish costumes and Dan Redfeld’s fabulous orchestra, “Beauty” is visually and aurally opulent.

At the talkback, a small girl asked how Egan changes costumes so quickly. The actress coyly replied, “It’s an enchanted castle,” assuring her many fans that she will always be the quintessential Disney princess.

“Beauty and the Beast” plays through July 29 in Kavli Theatre. Call Ticketmaster at (800) 745- 3000 or visit ticketmaster.com or go to the box office for tickets.