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‘The Beast’ Is Coming Back, This Time to the Stage

The Disney Company is cooking up a stage production of “The Beauty and the Beast,” based on the animated movie musical, and it might open in Los Angeles.

Several Disney sources said a Los Angeles opening was a possibility, and Nederlander chairman James Nederlander said he’s talking to Disney about opening the show at his company’s Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. But an official Disney spokeswoman said the show will open in New York. A fall opening is possible, though the timing is still uncertain.

Linda Woolverton is expanding her screenplay for the stage. “It’s important that it be a little more sophisticated for the stage,” she said. Translating animated imagery presents problems. For example, actors will play the household objects in the Beast’s castle, so “we’ll alter the mythology a bit to explain why the candelabrum is six feet tall.” Special effects for the magical transformations at the end of the story have been devised and demonstrated to Disney officials.

Composer Alan Menken has returned to his score, with Tim Rice replacing the late Howard Ashman as lyricist, just as he did when Ashman became too ill to continue work on the “Aladdin” movie.

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The movie had a kid-length running time, which most would consider too short for a Broadway-style musical, so Menken and Rice have written two new songs and are working on more, a Disney source said. An Ashman/Menken song that was cut from the film, “Human Again,” will probably be restored for the play.

POST-RIOT REVELATION: After the riots last April, Rob Brownstein joined a multicultural group of 50 cleaning up a mall at Florence and Central avenues. “We automatically fell into a pattern of work, without anyone organizing us,” Brownstein said. “This melting pot was working together, with no fights, no problems.”

Natch, it reminded him of . . . “Godspell.”

Brownstein had directed a production of the hippie-era musical as his senior project at Queens College in New York in 1980. For whatever reason, his thoughts drifted to the opening number of the show, “Tower of Babble,” as he swept up the shopping center.

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But he didn’t stop with an idle thought. He went out and enlisted composer Stephen Schwartz’s permission to do an updated revival.

Flash forward a year, and Brownstein’s staging of “Godspell . . . Now!,” a new version of the show, will open at the Wilshire Theatre on April 28, the eve of the anniversary of the King verdict.

The new version is set in 1992, so “Godspell . . . Now!” isn’t quite accurate. (But then, “Godspell . . . Last Year!” just doesn’t sing).

The text remains basically the same, but some of the details and the design have changed. Jesus, an African-American, shows up at a looted mall in South-Central.

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Schwartz has written two new songs for this edition: “Beautiful City,” a rewritten version of a song that appeared in the movie but not in the play, and a new opening number called “No Way.” Ironically, it’ll replace the very same “Tower of Babble” number that initially inspired Brownstein.

Producers Hal Grossman and Joel Murray may take the show elsewhere, depending on how it goes, but Brownstein said the setting would remain in L.A. Plans are underway to channel some of the proceeds to L.A. recovery projects, though nothing has been set yet.

PROGRESS AT THE PLAYHOUSE: Talks have resumed between the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC) and the Theatre Corp. of America, which runs the Pasadena Playhouse--and the talks so far look “encouraging,” according to SSDC executive director David Rosenak.

Playhouse officials declined to comment.

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The union went on strike against the Playhouse late last year, primarily because of disagreements over compensation for the directors of those Playhouse productions that go elsewhere--specifically, to the satellite seasons the Theatre Corp. operates in Poway and Santa Barbara.

If the dispute isn’t settled soon, the Directors Guild--the union that negotiates contracts for film and TV directors--may join the fray. The DGA board voted in January to support its fellow directors’ union, though no statement has been issued yet. If the DGA were to forbid its members from working for the Theatre Corp., it would severely shrink the Playhouse’s pool of available directors.


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