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LA Theater Review

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

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Walt Disney Theatrical Productions made its bow in 1994 with this fastidiously faithful, Tony-nominated stage adaptation of Walt Disney Pictures' Beauty and the Beast, the only animated film in Oscar history to garner a best picture nomination. Thanks to the mythic resonance of its timeless story and the soaring Alan Menken-Howard Ashman film score (new songs added by Menken and Tim Rice), the film made a logical segue to the Broadway stage, to glorious effect. The long-running Broadway edition closed July 29, opening the door to an inevitable onslaught of regional productions. Can the effervescent magic of the opulent Broadway production be recaptured in scaled-down mountings? Cabrillo Music Theatre's spirited rendition comes darn close. It's a lively and heartwarming lark that elicited jubilant reactions from a capacity opening-night crowd.

Director Lewis Wilkenfeld's mostly first-rate cast is headed by Ashley Moniz, who sings like an angel and graces her heroine, Belle, with the ideal mix of feistiness and demure charm. As the titular prince turned monster, Chris Warren Gilbert boasts a fabulous singing voice and achieves moments of great humor, yet he doesn't project enough ferocity to make the character's transition from tiger to pussycat fully effective. Matt Merchant, as the musclebound blowhard Gaston, scales comic heights; he's the kind of villain you love to hate and hate to love. Depite one's initial reaction that Joshua Finkel is too short for the role of rascally candlestick Lumiere, the actor parlays the character into a glittering supporting turn. As Gaston's milquetoast sidekick Lefou, rubber-faced David R. Gordon pulls off slapstick pratfalls with consummate skill. Among other standouts are Elissa Wagner's flirtatious French feather duster Babette, James William Gruessing Jr.'s fussbudget clock Cogsworth, and Lisa Donahey's radiant teapot Mrs. Potts, delivering a heart-rending rendition of the lovely title song.

The uncredited set designs and costume designs elegantly capture the fanciful fairy-tale look of the film. The complicated special effects are also masterfully executed. Lighting designer Rand Ryan eloquently imbues the proceedings with moods ranging from somber to ecstatic. Wilkenfeld coordinates the almost-nonstop action so the scenes and production numbers flow seamlessly. Music director-conductor Tom Griffin and choreographer Peggy Hickey do full justice to the classic score. In a watershed achievement for Cabrillo, this tale as old as time feels as fresh and satisfying as a summer breeze.

Presented by Cabrillo Music Theatre at the Fred Kavli Theatre,

Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Countrywide Performing Arts Center, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks.

Thu.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Jul. 27-Aug. 5.

(805) 583-8700. www.cabrillomusictheatre.com.

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