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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Disney's Beauty and the Beast at NJPAC:
Family Entertainment at its Best

Beauty and the Beast
Emily Behny and Cast
Four years after completing its Broadway run of 13 years and 5,000 performances, Disney's Beauty and the Beast is happily back (just a few minutes out of town) at NJPAC in Newark. However, the window of opportunity is short as it will only be here through Sunday night (6/26).

The delightful score by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman for the 1991 Disney film has been augmented with five songs Menken composed with lyricist Tim Rice which against all odds meet the level of quality of the film's songs. Particularly beautiful are the haunting "Home" and Beast's powerful first act finale, "If I Can't Love Her".

The enthusiasm and exuberance of the youthful, non-Equity cast is infectious. The lovely Emily Behny brings warmth, humor and a strong, smooth soprano to the indomitable Belle. Dane Agostinis brings sincerity to his lyrics while capturing all the humor of the frustrated, socially inept Beast. Logan Denninghoff touches all bases in his standard issue Gaston. Andrew Kruep as his abused acolyte Lefou draws much laughter with his exceptionally dexterous pratfalls. Michael Haller (Lumiere), Benjamin Lovell (Cogsworth), and the charming Julia Louise Hosack (Mrs. Potts) are delightful as Beast's transmuted servants. Ditto Erin Elizabeth Coors, Christopher Spenser, Jen Bechter and Sebastian Hedges Thomas (alternating with Noah Jones as Chip).

Those who assume (as I did) that this stage musical is necessarily a reductive version of the animated film are simply mistaken. The expanded score, the experience and sound of hearing it played and sung live, the humanity of the performance, the heightened humor, the tightened, sharper book (how wise not to have Beast order Belle to be locked in her room), and the finely choreographed, delightful live presentation of "Be Our Guest" are delightfully unique to the stage version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

It is notable that the current NETworks Presentations national touring production of Beauty and the Beast is the work of the re-united original Broadway creative team. Not resting on his laurels, director Rob Roth, aided and abetted by choreographer Matt West, scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer, lighting designer Natasha Katz, and costume designer Ann Hould-Ward, has created a fresh and supple production which lightly and joyously sweeps us away with its easy humor and gentle humanity. The production never overwhelms the characters and clever storytelling of Linda Woolverton's book. Even in the large confines of NJPAC's Prudential Hall, this Beauty and the Beast produces heartwarming moments of gentle intimacy. The quality of the writing and its presentation are such that Disney's Beauty and the Beast is as suitable an entertainment for adults as it is for kids.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast continues performances (Evening.: Sunday 7:30 pm/ Friday, Saturday 8 pm / Matinees Saturday, Sunday 2 pm) through June 26, 2011, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), One Center Street, Newark, NJ 07102, Box Office:888-GO-NJPAC (466-5722); online www.njpac.org.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast music by Alan Menken / lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice / book by Linda Woolverton / directed by Rob Roth

Cast
Belle........................................Emily Behny
Beast...................................Dane Agostinis
Gaston..........................Logan Denninghoff
Lefou...................................Andrew Kruep
Mrs. Potts....................Julia Louise Hosack
Lumiere................................Michael Haller
Cogsworth.........................Benjamin Lovell
Babette.......................Erin Elizabeth Coors
Maurice......................Christopher Spencer
Madame Bouche......................Jen Bechter
Chip..................Sebastian Hedges Thomas
Monsieur d'Arque......................Nate Suggs

> Ensemble:
David Baur, Jeff Brooks, Carly Casey, Brittany Conigatti,
Robin DeGuzman, Anthony Fett, Gabriela Gamache, Brian Kess,
Carter Lynch, Clifford Lyons, Taylor Hilt Mitchell, Sarah Rolleston,
Sarah Claire Smith, Mandy Striph, Allyson Tolbert

Prologue Narrator (Voice): John Cavaluzzo

See website for tour dates: www.beautyandthebeastontour.com


Photo: Joan Marcus


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- Bob Rendell



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