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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
— Mrs. Potts
Beauty and
Belinda Allyn as Belle (photo credit: Jerry Dalia)
Seriously, There must be a reason why a kitchen sink wasn't thrown in for good measure to join the other enchanted objects who sing and dance in the awesome and hugely entertaining Disney's Beauty and the Beast currently at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

Actually audiences are getting more than they could possibly wish for in this grandly-scaled production in which a tea pot and cup, a pair of candle sticks, a feather duster, a wardrobe and salt and pepper shakers are already significant members of the large cast of others. Every member of the company contributes terrifically to the magic in this musical version of the famed fairy tale as written by book writer Linda Woolverton and based it on the original story written way back when by French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.

The long-running Broadway hit that opened on Broadway in 1994 has been a staple in community theaters, schools and theater groups around the world for the past 25 years. It was deju vu all over again for me as I again watched this show in which only last year my grandson Ben played the Beast with consummate panache at his Performing Arts School. Would any beast surpass his? Talley Session tries hard but it was only his obvious maturity and rich baritone voice that made me concede he was also perfect in the role. Don't mean to gush, but again hearing the lovely melodies created by composer Alan Menken, the funny and flavorsome lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and of course Woolverton's new take on the story remains a treat.

Much credit goes to director Mark S. Hoebee, who (not incidentally) played Pepper for ten years during the original Broadway run. There is not a dull or attention distancing moment in this production which moves with speed and a graceful sweep helped largely by the spectacular, fluid settings designed by Kelly James Tighe and enhanced by Charlie Morrison's lighting.

If there is a budget-be-damned look to the show, it may be due to the opulent fantasy period costumes designed by Leon Dobkowski. Bravo to Halsey Onstage, the creators of the Enchanted Objects.

Belinda Allyn is a simply lovely Belle with a lilting soprano voice as well as a refreshingly down-to-earth heroine. Forget starry-eyes. This is a spunky Belle who adores books and her eccentric father/inventor Maurice (Joel Blum) as much as she abhors her suitor, the brutish biceps-flexing Gaston (Stephen Mark Lukas). Kevin Curtis gets plenty of high-octane mileage as Gaston's creepy sidekick Lefou.

Much of the joy in this production comes from the exuberant performances by Kevin Ligon as anxiety-prone Cogsworth, Gavin Lee, as the hot-to-trot Lumiere, Jenelle Chu as the flirty Babette and Stacia Fernandez as the warm-hearted Mrs. Potts.

Presumably we all know the basic story of how a Prince who has been transformed by a witch into a Beast must remain so until true love lifts the curse. Is Belle, a captive in his castle, the one to do it? Well, that's it in a tea cup. But it is the telling and staging that makes us captive to the dangers that ensue as well as to the wonderfully spirited dancing that sparks the show by choreographer Alex Sanchez. Another shout out to sound engineer for creating a perfect balance between voices and orchestra.

This is gorgeous family entertainment of the first order and should ensure a continuing love of theater especially for anyone attending a show for the first time. At the sold-out matinee performance I attended, it was a heart-warming to see so many young girls accompanied by parents parading around the court yard before the show and during the intermission in their beautiful frocks.

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Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, Book by Linda Woolverton Choreographed by Alex Sanchez Directed by Mark S. Hoebee
Cast of Principals: David Michael Garry (Voice of the Narrator/Bookseller, Monsieur D'Arque), Belinda Allyn (Belle), Kevin Curtis (Lefou), Stephen mark Lukas (Gaston), Joel Blum (Maurice), Kevin Ligon (Cogsworth), Gavin Lee (Lumiere), Jenelle Chu (Babette), Stacia Fernandez (Mrs. Potts), Alternates Gianni David Faroulo Antonio Watson (Chip), Tally Sessions (Beast), Donna English (Madame de la Grande Bouche)
Scenic Design: Kelly James Tighe
Costume Design: Leon Dobkowski
Enchanted Objects Design: Halsey Onstage
Lighting Design: Charlie Morrison
Sound Design: Matt Kraus
Hair & Wig Design: Leah J. Loukas
Makeup Design: Dena Olivieri
Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet
Music Direction: Michael Borth
Production Stage Manager: Andrea Cibelli
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J.
Performances: Wednesdays at 7:30 pm; Thursdays at 1:30 and 7:30; Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 1:30 and 8 pm; Sundays at 1:30 and 7 pm
From 05/29/19 Opened 06/02/19 Ends 07/03/19
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 06/09/19

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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