AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton
Directed by Brooke Knight
Presented by Broadway By the Bay
San Mateo Performing Arts Center
600 N. Delaware St., San Mateo / (650) 579-5565

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"Disney's Beauty and the Beast" tells an age-old tale, but it becomes fresh and new in the hands of Broadway By the Bay, thanks to director Brooke Knight and to topnotch contributions on all other fronts. The magic starts immediately with a full orchestral sound for the Prologue. Musical director Rick Reynolds oversees one of the best orchestras -- sometimes a weakness -- BBB has ever assembled. The musical magic is accompanied by Michael Ramsaur's complex, intriguing light design.

This is the tale of a handsome prince who is transformed into a beast (Noel Anthony) because of a heartless act. The spell can be broken only when he learns to love and is loved in return, but most people flee from him in fear because he's so scary looking. His luck changes when he meets the lovely, intelligent and independent Belle (Kimberly Jensen). She causes him to mend his ways, and thus she begins to see the goodness inside him.

Of course there has to be a villain. In this case he's the tall, dark and handsome but brutish and stupid Gaston (Jeremy Stolle), who decides he's going to marry Belle and resorts to nefarious deeds to persuade her. Part of his plot involves trying to victimize Belle's loving but eccentric father, Maurice (Dan Demers). Gaston's henchman is the hapless Lefou, played by the limber-legged Paul Araquistain.

The Beast's castle is inhabited by a group of servants who also have fallen victim to the spell by taking on characteristics of household items. They include Lumiere (Zach Trimmer), Cogsworth (Brad Friedman), Babette (Gennine Taylor), Mrs. Potts (Tracy Chiappone), her son Chip (James Zongus) and Madame de le Grande Bouche (Julia Louise Hosack). They all join in a rousing welcome to Belle in "Be Our Guest," joined by enchanted dishes, an athletic area rug, salt and pepper shakers, and others.

The energetic, intricate choreography is by resident choreographer Berle Davis and his protege Ashlee Fife, a BBB alumna who has enjoyed an extensive professional dance career. Professionalism also is apparent in the quality of the singing throughout the cast, but especially from Anthony, Jensen, Stolle and Chiappone. The storybook sets are from the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, N.Y. The colorful costumes come from the Theater Company. Sound (somewhat overmiked) is by Sound on Stage.

"Disney's Beauty and the Beast," which features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, is the sixth-longest-running musical in Broadway history. Based on the popular animated Disney film, it appeals to all ages, especially the younger set, which made up a significant portion of the Sunday matinee audience. Most seemed enchanted, along with the adults, thanks to this outstanding ensemble performance.

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