Emily Behny and Dane Agostinis reprise Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast in Disney’s national tour of the tale, which may be as old as time, but is fresh and delightful in this telling for adults and children alike.
Now playing at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), the classic piece comes from the same minds that created the 1994 Broadway production.
It’s being staged with all of the elaborate costumes, re-imagined sets, new and old songs and humorous moments that can only be experienced at a live show.
Beauty and the Beast tells the enchanting story of Belle (Behny), a determined young woman in a simple town, who falls in love with the Beast (Agostinis), secretly a handsome young prince trapped by a spell that can only be broken by the power of love.
Of course, the spell has not only transformed the Beast, but his castle staff as well.
With the help of his menagerie, a talking candlestick (Michael Haller), clock (Benjamin Lovell) and teapot (Julia Louise Hosack), the Beast must find the humanity and compassion that he has lost through his transformation.
It’s rare that a director from a Broadway production re-imagines his work for a national tour of the same piece, but to the musical’s great benefit, Rob Roth returned to the helm alongside his friend and longtime collaborator Stan Meyer, who also designed sets for the Broadway show.
This Beauty and the Beast is beautiful eye candy for children, between Belle’s multi-tiered yellow ball gown and the dancing silverware and plates in “Be Our Guest”.
The darker scenes are especially arresting, as wolves (puppets invisibly engineered) attack Belle’s father to sounds of thunder and madness. The chilling climactic moment when Beast gets stabbed by Gaston is so intense that it’s almost too realistic for young audience members.
There may be something there that wasn’t before in this version of Beauty and the Beast, and it’s not just the new songs that were introduced after Disney brought the music and lyrics of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice to the Broadway stage.
The multitude of tongue-in-cheek moments make it an enjoyable night of theater for adults as well.
Hosack’s Mrs. Potts takes a swig from her flask when she gets frustrated with Belle, to the chuckles of moms and dads out front. Haller’s Lumiere flirts with feather duster Babette (Erin Elizabeth Coors) with all the innuendoes of two lovers in a tryst.
Children will love this production before the first curtain even opens. Tables are set by the entrances to the theater, on which adults and kids alike can join Mrs. Potts’ tea party–complete with plastic cupcakes, teapots and silverware.
Between the phosphorescent rose around which the story centers, the Beast flying through the air as he transforms from animal to man, and the comedy instilled with great flair by Andrew Kruep in the role of Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou, there is never a dull moment in the musical.
Katie DiIorio, age 5, spoke with The Improper about one of the show’s surprises as she served “tea” during intermission.
“I loved ‘Be Our Guest’ because of when the strings popped into the audience!” she said excitedly of the streamers and ribbons that shot into the house, much to the delight of the audience.
Katie summed up the NJPAC musical theater experience best when she stated definitively, “Beauty and the Beast was so much fun!”