“Is it like seeing a movie in 3-D?” Christopher asked me as the orchestra tuned up. I quickly tried to explain stage theatre to an eight year old. “It’s better. It’s live. It’s real people.” Network Presentations, LLC presents DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The literary classic immortalized in cartoon comes to life on stage. A beautiful girl is imprisoned in an enchanted castle. Her persecutor is a beast. Unbeknownst to the girl, the beast is hexed. True love is the only thing that can break the spell and make him human again. It’s “a tale as old as time.” DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST spellbinds as a lyrical family treasure.
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I saw the last touring production of BEAUTY & THE BEAST in 2010. For that review, my plus one was Dick, a 42-year old kid. This time I decided to go much younger for my play date and doubled it. I went to the 1pm Sunday matinee with Christopher and Kaleb, 8 year old cousins. Christopher had never been to a play. Kaleb had been to BILLY ELLIOT in this same theatre building. He informed his cousin confidently that F seats were much better than Q. It’s exciting to observe kids experience something new. Even before the show started, the boys were captivated by the orchestra pit, the “ancient” ceiling decor, and the plush, foldable seats.
The play starts out dark with a man being cursed by a hag. Later, two frightening scenes have wolves attacking. To lighten up these moments, the production uses a veiled screen and puppetry. My boys weren’t fazed by these scary moments but the little girl in front of me was. Primarily, the show is light, frothy entertainment. Logan Denninghoff (Gaston) leads the laughs by continually kissing his biceps. Denninghoff and his cartoonish sidekick Andrew Kruep (Lefou) bring the slapstick buffoonery. A tavern dance sequence has the boys and me thoroughly fixated. Mugs are chinked and multiplied in a pubalicious chorus line. Over at the castle, Michael Haller (Lumiere), Benjamin Lovell (Cogsworth) and Julia Louise Hosack (Mrs. Potts) serve up the dazzling spectacle, “Be Our Guest.” It’s a high-energy dinner party as the flatware and plates kick-up some fun. During that big number, shimmering streamers burst out into the audience. This was the boys’ favorite moment in the whole show. In fact, Kaleb was instrumental in cleaning our area to pocket the sparkly stuff.
In BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, it’s all about a girl and a hairy, fanged thing. Emily Behny (Belle) and Dane Agostinis (Beast) make the love story lovable. Behny and Agostinis are more animated than animation. In live theatre, it’s the gestures, facial expressions, physical attraction that make it more funny, charming, and real! The odd, bestiality pairing is so engaging that I get misty as she professes her love over his dying carcass. And I’m weeping as Agostinis is air-lifted in a magical transformation. The boys loved this beast to man staged illusion and spontaneously started the applause. Later, as the castle inhabitants realize they are human again, Christopher starts whispering, “where’s Chip?” Even knowing the story, we are both overly concerned that the teacup didn’t make it. He’s relieved to see the boy race across the stage to his mother. I’m a sopping mess.
For kids, DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a perfect introduction to theatre. As Christopher said, “It was really long but it was really good.” Even though it’s an extended sitting time, the kids know the story so they can anticipate when and how it’ll end. This knowledge allows them an opportunity to be distracted by all the other theatrical stimulation, like collecting streamers, recognizing a kettle drum, learning that clapping after a song doesn’t mean the show is over. It’s an educational family experience! As Kaleb said he learned two things, “you shouldn’t make fun of people who read and don’t be rude.” Life lessons indeed!
Summing up their experiences in three words, Christopher describes it with ‘courageous, awesome, exciting’ and Kaleb say its ‘sweet, complimentary, exciting.’
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission
At Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton
Wednesdays 2pm and 7:30pm, Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm
Thru August 7th