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BWW Reviews: Lush Romance and Fantasy of LE BELLE ET LA BETE Delights Audiences at Nashville Children's Theatre

You won't find any dancing candelabra or see any anthropomorphic bombe chests bursting out in song in Nashville Children's Theatre's beautifully crafted adaptation of The Beauty and The Beast-written by producing artistic director Scot Copeland under the title Le Belle et la Bete-but what you will find is a heartfelt iteration of the timeless tale, one filled with romantic wonder and exquisite storytelling, based upon the "fairy tale" by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont.

First produced at NCT some ten years ago, Copeland brought the original creative team back together for the 2012 rendition of Le Belle et la Bete to allow them the opportunity to mount a production that showcases each members' talents at their finest, in the process challenging each member to go above and beyond their already impressive achievements to deliver a stunningly beautiful, artfully rendered work to the stage.

With a musical score composed by the unparalleled Paul Carrol Binkley that adds emotional depth to the onstage proceedings by the merest glimmer of a tune at certain points –swelling into something more obvious and lush at others-the story of Le Belle et la Bete is revealed at a perfect pace, both for younger audiences and their more senior counterparts. Copeland's years of knowledge and experience in entertaining younger audiences, and in challenging their minds to go further and higher, has never been felt more eloquently than in this retelling of the redemptive power of love and devotion, a power that can transform the most cynical audience member even as it transforms and transports a beastly, otherworldly figure whose heart beats with sincerity, warmth and generosity.

Performed amid a gorgeously appointed and altogether sumptuous set designed by MTSU professor Scott Boyd, who spent a large portion of his professional career as staff designer at Nashville Children's Theatre, the story is related rather effortlessly, with each scene dovetailing into the others at a graceful pace that never bores or leaves young minds the time to wander. Scott Leather's impressive lighting design, which always bathes the stage in a cavalcade of beautiful hues while punctuating the onstage action in appropriate fashion, adds to the emotional impact of Le Belle et la Bete. Patricia Taber's costume design, as creative and as visually appealing as anything we've ever seen from her, robe the cast of characters in the perfect garments to match their roles and to underscore the themes that run through the play.

Copeland directs a top-flight cast of professional actors in the romantic fantasy, none of whom are more impressive than the play's two leads, played by Marin Miller and Eric D. Pasto-Crosby. Miller makes for an attractive, completely accessible Belle, imbuing her character with charm and grace and evoking images of her mother in her performance. The daughter of Mary Jane Harvill, one of Nashville's most noteworthy theater personalities, Miller gives a performance of which her mother will be justifiably proud (I swear I heard the musical lilt of Mary Jane's voice in Marin's as she delivered her lines with certainty and confidence).

Pasto-Crosby, whose mellifluous voice cannot be hidden by his beastly costume and make-up, delivers an ideally crafted performance as la Bete, at once bombastic and frightening yet somehow gentle and soothing. He walks a fine line in his portrayal, conveying his beastly rage while just as easily playing his character's human frailties and weaknesses in a completely genuine manner. With his leonine mane (which, granted, looks like one of Christina Aguilera's wigs-perhaps one given her by Cher), he looks every inch the monarch of his kingdom and he moves with purpose about the stage, initially scaring the young beauty (and the audience) with his performance, then pulling us all in with his heartfelt pleas for understanding and acceptance.

Chip Arnold plays Belle's devoted father, whose loss of his fortune at the hands of an unscrupulous lawyer sets the plot into its circuitous motion, with the appropriate paternal feelings that are made even more convincing by his anger and unease as his undoing is revealed in the play's early going. Peter Vann plays the duplicitous solicitor with haughty smarm and diffidence, while Belle's sisters are played with spiteful glee by Jamie Farmer and Cori Anne Laemmel, who are quite good as the spoiled and arrogant siblings of the much-favored younger daughter.

Vann, Farmer and Laemmel are also cast as the spirits in the Beast's enchanted chateau who perform any and all manner of tasks that exemplify his sense of hospitality and the true measure of his heart-and they do so with total focus that is winningly effective and which shows off their selflessness as actors in the process.

Audiences have only a few weeks to catch this superb entertainment, which continues at Nashville Children's Theatre through March 18. Recommended for ages seven and up, you may rest assured that it's an appropriate choice for adults as well, particularly for those adults who refuse to believe in the demise of romance and fantasy, of love and redemption.

- Le Belle and la Bete. Adapted by Scot Copeland, from the original by Jeanne-Marie La Prince de Beaumont. Direct by Scot Copeland. Music composed by Paul Carrol Binkley. Presented by Nashville Children's Theatre, through March 18. For details, go to www. Nashvillechildrenstheatre.org or call (615) 254-9103.

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From This Author - Jeffrey Ellis

Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 35 years. In 1989, Ellis and his partner l... (read more about this author)


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