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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Beauty and the Beast

Now on its fourth national tour, Beauty and the Beast—Disney's 1994 Broadway musical—is showing its age. In this non-Equity version, the costumes and sets are severely pared down and less sophisticated, and at least one song has been cut. But —surprise, or maybe not—what remains is a show that well delivers the sturdy classic story (book by Linda Woolverton) illuminated by one of the best Disney scores (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice). It was there all along, even when we were distracted by the stunning Tony Award-winning costumes.

First modified in the 1991 Disney film, which serves as the basis for the musical, the essence of the fairy tale story of the young woman who breaks a spell cast upon a prince by falling in love with him, holds up and the vivid characters entertain throughout. Sets (Stanley A. Meyer) are spare and barely sturdy enough to serve their purpose (every piece that a cast member stands on wobbles frighteningly), and the puppetry (wolves in the forest, the beggar woman-turned-enchantress who casts the spell at the start) are nearly laughable, but an exemplary, if very young, cast and the simpler, yet more than serviceable character costumes (Ann Hould-Ward's own toned down work) make us feel it would be satisfying with no set at all.

Logan Denninghoff (Gaston) and Emily Behny (Belle) are surely soon to get their Equity cards, if that's the path they choose, as both are professional and engaging actor-singers. Behny has perfected the "Disney heroine" voice and is sweet and sassy, as called for. The strapping Denninghoff could have played the obnoxiously narcissistic Gaston on Broadway; he brings this cartoonish lout to hilarious life and sings with gusto. As Gaston's sidekick Lefou Jimmy Larkin is nearly at the same level (and he just graduated from high school last year!); his physical shtick and acrobatics are excellent. Supporting characters played by Julia Louise Hosack (Mrs. Potts), Lumiere (Michael Haller) and James May (Cogsworth) are also appealing and do their roles justice. As the Beast, Dane Agostinis is just fine with the comic side of the character, and is quite expressive through all that make-up, but he was not in good voice on the night I attended, a disappointment since he has the beautiful first act ending song "If I Can't Love Her."

Matt West's choreography is peppy and crowd pleasing, and the eight-member orchestra under conductor Carolyn Violi delivers the lovely score well.

As I sat in the theatre, the importance of the performances, the story and the songs was illustrated without doubt by the young members of audience—they giggled and gasped and applauded with joy throughout the show. Sounds like they recommend this production. I do, too.

Beauty and the Beast through April 8 at Heinz Hall. For tickets and performance information, visit www.trustarts.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.beautyandthebeastontour.com/.


See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.


-- Ann Miner



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