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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 09
Be their guest: Beauty and the Beast
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Be their guest: Beauty and the Beast

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

Beauty and the Beast
February 27
Paramount Theatre


If it is true that the 'tale is old as time,' then there must be a reason. And in the case of Disney's musical Beauty and the Beast, the reason is clear: the story is a crowd-pleaser.

Taken from a French legend originating in the 1700s, the fairytale - like most - is an allegory that can apply itself in various ways. Aside from the obvious of looking beyond physical appearances, the story tells of courage, being independent, and even a dose of etiquette. The recent touring company from Broadway Across America at Seattle's Paramount Theatre expresses all that and more, with the added bonus of music by Alan Menken and lyrics by the late, great Howard Ashman (who died of HIV complications eight months before the film's release) and impresario Tim Rice.

The story should be quite familiar. In a small French village, there is a beautiful young girl named Belle who lives with her inventor father, Maurice. While most maidens fawn over the brawny and brash Gaston, the bibliophile Belle is more interested in the romance she finds between the pages of her books. Despite Gaston's many egocentric capabilities, Belle refuses to fall captive to his charms. One day as Maurice makes his way through a dark wood, he finds himself at the door of an enchanted castle and at the mercy of its owner, a selfish prince transformed by enchantment into a horrible beast. Maurice is held captive until Belle vows to take his place. Before long, both the beauty and the beast realize that something more enchanting has started between them and the question is raised: Could Belle be the one to break the spell before time runs out?

The young, romantic Belle is played by Emily Behny, and she is everything a Disney princess should be. She's pretty and has a very clear singing voice. From the opening number, Behny's voice shines and projects easily above the others. The audience embraces the young ingénue and readily watches her unwavering strength throughout the ordeal of her and her father. She presents Belle as a young girl who is ready for womanhood and waiting for the opportunity to find her.

The Beast is played by Dane Agostinis and he does so with a very good combination of ferocity (without being too scary for younger audience members) and charm. The gruff appearance masks the enchanted prince's insecurities and Agostinis knows how and where to let the vulnerability show through. His baritone voice easily ripples through the theater with the beast's song 'If I Can't Love Her,' leading up to Act One's conclusion, with a note that should be reverberated throughout the theater to bring the curtain down. While building beautifully, the held note ended a touch prematurely.

The bravado Gaston is played by Logan Denninghoff, who portrays the character as bigger-than-life and over-the-top as he was meant to be. He's a handsome man with a strong jaw, which he evidently built up by chewing on every piece of scenery he comes across. But that is the way the Disney antagonist is written, so Denninghoff does give it justice. Except when singing the line 'Every last inch of me is covered with hair,' he probably shouldn't bring attention to his shaved chest. The ensemble cast members all do a good job. The candlestick Lumiére, played by Michael Haller, takes control of each scene with ease. He's wonderful as the flirtatious host when singing the show's unofficial anthem, 'Be Our Guest.' Cogsworth (played by James May) and Mrs. Potts (Julia Louise Hosack) also add charming touches as the enchanted clock and teapot.

The Walt Disney Company originally presented Beauty and the Beast as the 30th feature in their classic animation series. It was only the second film to use Computer Animation Production Systems, something developed for Disney by Pixar. On April 18, 1994, the Disney Corporation presented its first adaptation (of any of their own work) for the stage and opened on Broadway changing the Great White Way forever. While six of the original songs were kept, six more were written for the stage production including one ('Human Again') that was cut from the film and restored for the stage. The stage production stared Susan Egan as the heroine and Terrance Mann as The Beast. Tom Bosley played Maurice the inventor and Gary Beach played Lumiére. Since then, Belle has been played by many including Kerry Butler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Andrea McArdle, Toni Braxon, and Deborah Gibson, to name a few. The musical would go on to play for over 13 years, earning nine Tony Award nominations in 1994, but winning only one. It holds the honor of being the eighth longest-running Broadway musical in American history.

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