Anyone who knows me knows of my love for Howard Ashman. I consider the time he, Alan Menken and Tim Rice worked on Disney movies to be the Golden Age of Disney Musicals with "The Little Mermaid", "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin". Unfortunately, try as they may, Disney's attempts at making stage musicals out of "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin" have been less than stellar. Thank God we have the gem that is "Beauty and the Beast" to keep Howard's legacy alive. And while over the years the stage version has been toned down for touring, the majority of the magic is still there and they even managed a few surprises for me in the current production at the Paramount Theatre.
So we know the story, right? The Prince who is kind of a jerk, is cursed by an enchantress to be a beast until he can learn to love. His entire staff is cursed as well and turned into elements of the house. Belle is a local girl who doesn't fit into the town as she has the audacity to read and have ideas. Gaston, the local hunk, wants to marry Belle so he can have the most beautiful arm candy ever but she wants more. Belle's father, the eccentric inventor Maurice, gets lost in the woods on the way to the fair and stumbles on the Beast's castle and is imprisoned by the Beast. Belle finds him and offers to take his place. She stays, Beast growls, and eventually love and magic ensue. And there's fabulous production numbers along the way.
But if you only know the movie then you're in for a few treats. There are new, wonderful songs you have not heard, more big flashy production numbers and even some wonderful confetti canons to delight the kid in all of us. But there was even one more surprise for me in that a new song has been added since I originally saw it in 1995. Belle now has a stunning 11 o'clock number in "A Change in Me" and our Belle, Emily Behny, completely nailed it and brought down the house.
Beyond the loveliness that is Behny, the cast is chock full of wonderful performers. Dane Agostinis as the Beast is gruff and ferocious one minute and funny and quirky the next. In fact I think this is one of the most real and likable Beasts I've seen. Michael Haller managed to turn every smirk and tilt of the head into comedy gold as the waxy lothario Lumiere and along with his enchanted cohorts Julia Louise Hosack as Mrs. Potts and James May as Cogsworth kept the sweetness and humor alive. And speaking of humor I have to mention Jen Bechter in a smaller role as Madame de la Grande Bouche who kept stealing every scene she was in.
And now I must talk about Logan Denninghoff. Swaggering, blustering, and an all around foul human being. No, not Denninghoff but his characterization of the muscle-bound blowhard, Gaston. Not only does Denninghoff have the vocal chops to pull off the part but the facial expressions and stage presence to equal ten Gastons. Basically think of him as a hunky, charismatic, and beautifully rich voiced Jim Carrey.
So an all around fantastic production. The magic is there (although on a slightly smaller scale) the cast is fantastic and of course the music is some of the best Disney has ever had. And yes, it made me cry. So bust out you inner wide-eyed kid, and bring some real wide-eyed kids and catch a great show before the rose completely withers away.
"Beauty and the Beast" plays at the Paramount Theatre through February 27th. For tickets or information contact the Paramount box office at 877-STG-4TIX (877-784-4849) or visit them online at www.stgpresents.org.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus