“Beauty and the Beast” is a classic that has enchanted audiences, since the original Disney movie's release in 1991, with whimsical, beloved characters and instantly recognizable songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The stage adaption of the original film is now showing at The Growing Stage Theatre in Netcong, NJ between Friday, October 6th and Sunday, October 29th. Featuring Emily Cara Portune as Belle, Jason Pumarada as the Beast, and directed by Stephen Fredericks, the first-night performance of the show was a big hit with parents and children alike.
An arrogant prince is cursed by a beautiful enchantress, forcing him to live as a terrifying beast until he can fall in love – and have someone love him in return. Belle, a girl in a small provincial town who escapes her drab surroundings through books, is relentlessly propositioned by the odious Gaston (Ryan Slone) and his dimwitted sidekick LeFou (Donald Danford). When her father, Maurice (Robert Allan), trespasses in the Beast's castle and is cast into the dungeon, Belle volunteers to take his place as the Beast's prisoner. With the help of the Beast's old servants, now transformed into living objects, Belle must help the former prince discover his gentler side if she is ever going to see her father again.
The set is beautiful and baroque, with shades of Gothic strangeness – especially in the odd curving stairways in the grand hall. Cut-out screens form the oppressive confines of the forest, and the Beast's symbol glows in the black-light, adding a mystical touch. The star-filled windows of the west wing stand out as a particularly breathtaking piece of set design, and really sell the magic of Belle and the Beast's dance scene. All the costumes are beautiful and picked out in bright primary colors, perfectly matching the intensity of the set and props. The whimsical world of the musical is brought to life by the alternating bright colors and dusty blues of the lights, which, at times, drop the stage into near-darkness.
Of course, the sets, costumes, and lighting can only do so much without talented actors and singers to embody their characters and captivate the audience. Fortunately, the Growing Stage has found some wonderfully talented vocalists for the production, with particular standouts being Emily Cara Portune as Belle, Ryan Slone with an uproarious rendition of “Gaston,” and Jenna Morris with her performance of “Beauty and the Beast.” The choreography is excellent as well, especially in the delightful number “Be Our Guest,” where the servants welcome Belle to the castle with pomp and style. Overall, the show boasts a very strong cast, who are able to effortlessly move from puns and jokes to more emotional scenes.
Beauty and the Beast will be performed at Growing Stage: The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey three times a week: Fridays at 7:30pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00pm. The house opens 30 minutes before the start of the show. Tickets are $25 for Adults, $15 for Children, and $20 for Seniors. Tickets can be purchased www.growingstage.com or call the Box Office at (973) 347-4946.
PHOTO BY JERRY DALIA