Disney’s Beauty and the Beast holds may firsts. It was the first animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award® . It was the first animated film to pass the $100 million mark at the domestic box office (making a staggering $403 million worldwide). It was the first Broadway production from Disney Theatricals. It is now my first Youth Works production and it is simply fantastic.
Youth Works’ Disney’s Beauty and the Beast opened Friday night, May 7, on the Main Stage of Theater Works, Peoria. The musical continues through May 23 so there is plenty of time and, frankly, no excuse to miss this dazzling, animated mounting of the Hollywood and Broadway original.
Beauty and the Beast was adapted to the stage by the film’s authors, Linda Woolverton (book), Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics). Lyricist Tim Rice co-authored with Menken the additional songs for the Broadway version. Howard Ashman tragically died of complications from AIDS in 1991, never knowing the ultimate, lasting success of his cinematic masterpiece Beauty and the Beast.
Disney Theatricals opened its stage version at the Palace Theatre on April 18, 1994. Beauty and the Beast transferred to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 11, 1999 where it closed on July 29, 2007 after 5,464 performances to make room for Menken and Ashman’s The Little Mermaid.
Krissi Dines as Belle
There is absolutely nothing beastly about Youth Works’ Beauty! Athena Hunting has directed to perfection an astounding cast of 66 youthful performers ranging in age from 5 to 18. This amazingly, incredibly able ensemble is the complete package, all triple threats: actors/singers/dancers. There is simply nothing they can not do and they do it all so well. The huge cast features Krissi Dines as Belle, Ralphael Brownas the Beast, Aaron Arseneault as Gaston, Matt Kornegay as Belle’s father, Maurice, Joshua Larsen as Lumière, Zach Funk as Cogsworth, Rebecca Gallagher as Mrs. Potts and Kendra Goodenberger as Chip. What we are witnessing on the stages of Theater Works is the budding future of the American theater.
Aaron Arseneault as Gaston with the Beauty and the Beast company
This is a Beauty brimming with talent. Honorable mention goes to Krissi Dines whose Belle is the definition of beauty. She is a natural acting talent possessed of a belle like, gorgeous, lilting soprano. Aaron Arseneault is a revelation. Arseneault plays the ghastly Gaston and he is simply superb. His silly, slick, self absorbed bully is all sashaying, swaggering sinew and he steals his every scene with extremely little effort and a joyous aplomb. No less delightful is the megawatt performance of Josh Larsen as Lumière. Larsen is properly flirty, flighty and all aglow with a natural sense of rhythm and comedy. Zachry Funk makes for a funny, stodgy all wound up Cogsworth. Last, but certainly not least, is the charming five year old Kendra Goodenberger as Chip.
The delightful, beautifully costumed staff of the beast’s haunted castle
Beauty and the Beast was the first film to receive three Academy Award® nominations for Best Song: Beauty and the Beast (winner), Belle and Be Our Guest. Two musical highlights, among the many, of Youth Works’ Beauty are the very same songs, the Busby Berkeley inspired, show stopping Be Our Guest, complete with all singing, all dancing sugar cubes, flatware, china and napkins and the title number, beautifully sung by Rebecca Gallagher as Mrs. Potts.
Youth Works design team has done a splendid job. Nothing has been spared to insure our constant awe, excitement and entertainment. The production design is spectacular. Dori Brown has created a physical production that is beautifully detailed. Renee Brown’s costumes are a visual feast, ranging from whimsical to wonderful. Both designers’ work is complemented by specialty artist/designer Jason Washburn. From hair to wigs to make up, nothing has been overlooked.
Youth Works incredible ensemble and their rousing curtain call
Hunting and her profusely proficient performers have created a Disney’s Beauty and the Beast that is a veritable feast for our eyes and ears. This is a joyous musical experience for people of all ages, one that you will want to revisit again and again.
Beauty and the Beast is dedicated to Howard Ashman: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”
Graphic art and the production stills by Arthur Zatarski courtesy of Youth Works and Theater Works.
For additional information regarding ticket availability and/or performance schedule for Youth Works’ Beauty and the Beast, please contact the Theater Works Box Office directly, either by phone (623) 815-7930 or ON LINE.
Theater Works 8355 West Peoria Avenue Peoria 85345