TR Robertson –If the crowd response to Moonlight Stage Productions second summer production is any indication, this performance of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast may become one of Moonlights all time biggest hits. The musical was last produced at Moonlight in 2005, a stage production taken from Disney’s Oscar winning animated 1991 film. This 2021 production is colorful, beautifully acted, has tremendous singing voices throughout the musical, wonderful sets and scenery, delightfully funny and filled with exciting dance numbers. A packed Moonlight audience, filled with people of all ages, laughed and applauded time and time again; even applauding so long at the end of an amazing dance routine to “Gaston”, complete with clanging beer steins, Evan White, who played Gaston, had to give a slight calming motion to the audience so the scene could continue. There is no doubt everyone who saw this performance loved what they witnessed, and the remaining productions will be filled with more audience members treated to a fun evening at the theatre.
The musical and the animated film’s story are taken from a French fairy tale originally written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Bardot de Ville Neuve in 1740, later re-written and abridged by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756. The story revolves around a prince who becomes cursed when he slights an old beggar woman, only to discover she is an enchantress in disguise. The prince and all in his castle are turned into a variety of objects, the prince turned into a monstrous creature. The only way to break the curse is for the prince to learn to love and for him to find someone who will love him in return, all to be accomplished before the last petal on a magical red rose falls.
Photos by Ken Jacques and Adriana Zuniga
The Disney animated version included 8 songs, in the stage musical version these 8 songs were included plus one that was originally cut from the film and an additional 6 songs were added. Music was written by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and the story taken from a book by Linda Wodverton. The musical premiered on Broadway in April of 1994 and ran for 5,461 performances spanning 13 years.
The Moonlight production is Directed by Jamie Torcellini and Choreographed by Bill Burns. Both Burns and Torcellini worked on the original Los Angeles production. They both also traveled with the production to Broadway, Torcellini playing the funny and conniving LeFou with Burns working as the production supervisor. Elan McMahan returns as Conductor/music director for Moonlight, leading an impressive sounding 11-piece “Beauty and the Beast Orchestra”.
The cast selected for this production is stunning, led by Jenna Lea Rosen as the book fascinated peasant girl Belle and Michael Deni as The Beast, both making their Moonlight debut. Rosen and Deni have wonderful voices and complement each other on several songs. Two special standout numbers for the evening are Jenna Lea’s performance of “A Change in Me”, a song added to the musical in 1998 written for Toni Braxton’s performance as Belle, and Michael’s powerful and moving performance of “If I Can’t Love Her”.
Along with the two leads performances, there were a number of obvious crowd favorites throughout the musical. The physical comedy of the pompous huntsman Gaston, played by Evan White and his bumbling sidekick LeFou, played by Zane Camacho, kept the audience laughing time and time again. Camacho is making his Moonlight debut. The clever banter between the members of the castle, turned into various objects, are beautifully staged and the costumes are a delight. Led by the gregarious former maître d’ now a candelabra Lumiere, played by Michael Paternostro; the former head of the household now a clock Cogsworth, played by Jerald Vincent; the former head of the kitchen now a tea pot Mrs. Potts, played by Bets Malone; the former maid now a feather duster Babette, played by Mikayla Agrella; the former opera singer now a wardrobe closet Madame de la Grande Bouche, played by Bryce Hamilton and Mrs. Potts son Chip, now a tea cup, played by Abraham Germain. They, along with a large ensemble of actors and actresses, perform another audience favorite moment when all the enchanted members of the castle, decked out in clever and colorful kitchen utensil costumes, dance, and sing to “Be Our Guest”. Another rousing round of applause echoed throughout Moonlight. Moonlight Veteran Bets Malone, in another scene, sings the memorable “Beauty and the Beast” number as Belle and The Beast dance dressed in elaborately costumed outfits.
The talented cast performs with the assistance of numerous behind the scenes Moonlight members including Scenic Designer John Patrick, Costume Designer Mela Hoyt Heydon, Lighting Designer Jean-Yves Tessier, Sound Designer Jim Zadai, Projection Designer Jonathan Infante, Make-up and Prosthetics Designer Denice Paxton, Stage Manager Stanley D. Cohen, Technical Director Jennifer Edwards, and many, many more. The colorful scenery was provided by Citrus College Music Theatre Workshop, amazing costumes from 3-D Theatricals and flying effects by Vertigo. The multi-layered movable sets provided an eeriness for The Beast’s castle and the projections from Jonathan Infante added to the visual effects for the audience.
This is a performance everyone who is fortunate to see will remember for some time. The 2 ½ hour performance (counting a 15 min. intermission) is appropriate for all ages. Performance times are 8 pm Wednesday thru Sunday until Aug. 4th, July 27 and Aug. 3rd performances added. Ticket prices range from $17 to $59. For more information call 760-724-2110 or go to www.moonlightstage.com