On Theater: A beauty of a 'Beast'

Once upon a time, actually in 1991, the Disney studio produced an animated movie so well done that it became the first of its genre to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Three years later, "Beauty and the Beast" conquered Broadway, and it has toured the showplaces of the country ever since.

Currently, this lustrous stage production is headquartered at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where a new generation of youngsters, including my (almost) 7-year-old granddaughter, continues to be enthralled by this story of mirth, music and magic.

All the elements of a classic Disney fairy tale are beautifully in place in this captivating touring production from Alan Menken (music), Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (lyrics) and Linda Woolverton (book). They all come melodiously together under the direction of Rob Roth and choreographer Matt West.

Petite Hilary Maiberger beautifully portrays the bookish young girl, Belle, whose kooky inventor father (Paul Crane) is captured by the accursed Beast (Darick Pead) and who bravely volunteers to take his place. The back story here, of course, is that the Beast is truly a handsome prince underneath the hair and horns who must be loved to break the spell.

Counteracting Maiberger's sweet vocal tones are the rantings and ravings of her captor. Pead scores wonderfully in his bull-in-a-china-shop conversion from jailer to gentleman, commanding his underworld kingdom with a roar and a growl.

Stopping the show on occasion, as his character so often does, is Tim Rogan as Gaston, the muscle-bound narcissist who pursues Belle in the "real world." Rogan comes across as a sort of cross between Elvis Presley and Li'l Abner if both were engaged in comic villainy.

In the Beast's kingdom, even the servants are under his spell, and they compensate quite effectively. Best of the lot is Hassan Nazari-Robati as Lumiere, the illuminating fellow who is half-man, half-candlestick. He keeps the others in line — especially James May as the fussbudget walking clock Cogsworth.

Kristin Stewart lends some sweetness and light as Mrs. Potts, the human teapot, while Roxy York and Stephanie Moskal shine as the operatic diva and the tempestuous ballerina, respectively. Youngsters Holden Browne and Jack Mullen share the role of the bodyless tea cup, Chip.

Ensemble work is superbly accomplished under West's nimble choreography and musical director Kevin Francis Finn's small but splendid orchestra. Particularly engaging is the ever-popular "Be Our Guest" number, which virtually brings down the house, followed mournfully by the Beast's curtain-closing lament "If I Can't Love Her," calculated to strain the heart.

The only negative concerning the production is the fact that it's only in town for a week, closing its abbreviated engagement Sunday. If seats remain, children of all ages should flock to catch "Beauty and the Beast" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Beauty and the Beast"

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Starts at $29

Information: (714) 556-2787 or http://www.scfta.org

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