BWW Reviews: Family Fun at The MUNY with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Each year The MUNY makes it a point to present a full-blown musical that's aimed at the younger set. This year it's Beauty and the Beast, which was given the patented Disney treatment when adapted for the stage from their own 1991 animated film. So, it retains plenty of the elements that made the film so successful, while also featuring some additional songs by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, some of which were cut from the movie. There's no denying the appeal of this material, and it's a perfect way to introduce kids to the wonders of live theatre in such a lovely setting, and on such a grand scale.

A prince is visited by what he perceives to be a an old hag. But, when he rejects her based on her appearance, she reveals herself to be a beautiful enchantress. To teach the prince a lesson that looks can be deceiving, and how we should love each other for what we have within us, she transforms him into a beast. Only love can release him from his curse, but his time is limited. When a young girl's father stumbles into the prince's castle, he finds himself imprisoned by the beast. To free her father, she offers herself in exchange. But, will the beast be able to win her love and break the spell?

Nicholas Rodriguez delivers us a perfect Beast of a performance that has his complete conviction. Even under all the makeup and hair (with a shout-out to all the wigs designed by John Metzner) that he's wearing, he manages to convey the rage and heartache that the character is experiencing. He's especially strong during "If I Can't Love Her," the closing number for the first act. Kate Rockwell is a lovely and very appealing Belle, and she displays a splendid voice as well. Rockwell particularly shines during numbers like "Belle," "Is This Home?" and "A Change in Me." Rob McClure, who is always a welcome presence, is simply terrific as Lumiere, the candlestick who comes to life, and who leads the ensemble in a dazzlingly staged version of "Be Our Guest."

Nathaniel Hackmann is effective as Gaston, the narcissistic woodsman who has his eye on Belle, much to her chagrin, and he does sharp work with his proposal tune, "Me," and Michael Hartung provides comic relief as Gaston's cowardly sidekick, Lefou. Marva Hicks charms as Mrs. Potts, while Steve Rosen is properly flustered as Cogsworth. Lenny Wolpe (Maurice), Diedre Goodwin (Babette), and Spencer Jones (Chip) neatly round out a very good supporting cast.

Matt Lenz does fine work in bringing this Disney musical to vibrant life, and even in the quieter moments you can sense his desire to keep the pace moving, especially since it's a fairly long show for its target audience. Robin McGee's costumes are imaginative and colorful, and Robert Mark Morgan's scenic design is especially convincing, and nicely lit by Nathan Scheuer. Vince Pesce contributes some splendid choreography, while Ben Whiteley's musical direction makes a fairly decent score much more memorable than you'd imagine. Sound designers (John Shivers and David Partridge), along with Matthew Young's video designs add key elements that add considerable atmosphere.

For those who remember the original Disney film fondly, and for the generations who have enjoyed it since, Beauty and the Beast comes alive on The MUNY's wonderful stage. Check out this very family-friendly production through August 7, 2015.

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From This Author Chris Gibson

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