Theatre Mirror Review>"beauty And The Beast JR>Aida"

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entire contents copyright 2014 by Tony Annicone

"Beauty And The Beast JR."

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The Encore Kid's fall musical is Disney's "Beauty and the Beast Jr." The show first opened on April 19, 1994, closed on July 29, 2007 and ran for 5461 performances. Based on the 1991 Disney movie, the show tells the tale of a spell cast on a prince which transformed him into a ferocious beast. He must love and be loved before the last petal falls from the rose or he will be a beast forever. Into his life comes beautiful, bookish Belle. They must learn to love each other after he makes her a prisoner in his desolate castle. Belle could melt the polar ice cap and indeed even his heart. But will she through his facade in time? Throw in many colorful characters including her inventor father, Maurice, the town strongman, Gaston, his hilarious sidekick, Lefou and the numerous enchanted humans turned into household fixtures at the Beast's castle and you have the makings of this enchanting tale. Director Meaghan Bruneault, music director Brittney Dyer and choreographer Camryn McIver take this talented 37 member cast, winning them a thunderous standing ovation at their expertise.

Meaghan blends the comic and dramatic moments together beautifully while Brittney taught all the songs to the cast and not only conducts a topnotch four piece orchestra but also plays lead keyboards, too. Some topnotch harmonies come through in the numbers. Camryn's splendid dance numbers stop the show in "Be Our Guest" and "Human Again'' to name a few. The gorgeous costumes are by Johnny Cagno. The terrific leads for the show are Cara DiPietro as Belle and Brooks Shatraw as the Beast. She is a stunning strawberry blonde who wears a brunette wig and has a gorgeous soprano voice that soars off the charts in her many numbers including "Belle" where we learn she is a bookworm and the townspeople thinks she's odd, "Home" where she laments being held prisoner in the castle and in "Home" reprise where she admits her love for the Beast at last. Cara's amazing voice is matched by her strong acting ability where she gives Belle a backbone to stand up to Gaston's obnoxious advances as well as the Beast's rude behavior. Belle is determined to control her life but finally sees through the Beast's tough exterior to find happiness at last. Cara makes the audience root for a happy ending and captures their hearts while doing so. Brooks captures the essence of the Beast and infuses him with the necessary gruffness for the role. He also gives him the needed humor to control his ferocious behavior. Brooks displays his strong tenor voice in "If I Can't Love Her" by tugging at your heartstrings to close Act 1. He obtains the empathy of the audience with his earnest plea for understanding. His transformation into a handsome prince at the end of the show, moves the audience to tears. It gives the perfect finishing touch to this marvelous family musical. Bravo to two strong leads!

Matt Laferriere is wonderful as the egomaniac, Gaston who constantly flexes his muscles. His acting ability comes through and is hilarious and buffoon like in Act 1 but turns villainous and evil in Act 2 when he tries to kill the Beast. Matt's strong baritone voice is heard in "Gaston" with his sidekick, Lefou. He flexes and dances with the chorus in "Belle." His evil behavior is also seen when Gaston hires the head of an insane asylum to lock up Belle's father, Maurice. Matt sings "Maison de Lunes" with Mark Dreher-Sumpter as the sinister, Monsieur D'Arque and Lefou. Gaston also incites the townsfolk during the Mob song and try to kill the Beast. Zachary Zambarano is a hoot as the dumb and bumbling, Lefou. He leads the chorus in "Gaston" and performs some scene stealing antics perfectly. Tyler Richardson plays Belle's inventor father, Maurice. He wants to enter his invention in a contest. Tyler captures the fatherly concern for his daughter throughout the show.

Nigel Richards does a comical job as Lumiere, the candlestick who is one of the Beast's servants. He leads the chorus in two big song and dance numbers "Be Our Guest" in Act 1 and "Human Again" in Act 2. Victoria Soucy does a great job as Mrs. Potts, the teakettle. Her warmth envelopes Belle to make her feel welcome in the castle and her love for her son, Chip played wonderfully by Erika Leavitt shines through. Victoria does a beautiful job on "Beauty and the Beast" as Belle and the Beast fall in love with each other. Sean Sanford also does a comic turn as the fussbudget Cogsworth, who is a clock. He, Nigel and Victoria have many funny bits in the show which win them many laughs. The sexy maid, Babette who is in love with Lumiere is well played by Cara Vieira while the former opera singer, Madame de la Grande Bouche who is now a wardrobe is played wonderfully by Hailey Fice who displays her operatic voice at the transformation scene. Kudos to all the singing and dancing chorus members who bring this musical treat come to life. So be sure to catch "Beauty and the Beast Jr." before it dances out of town.

"Beauty And The Beast JR." (7 - 9 November)
@ Monument Square, WOONSOCKET RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide