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‘Beauty and the Beast’ a lavish telling of ‘tale as old as time’

Published: Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 11:27 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 11:46 a.m. CDT

A classic tale enhanced by the music of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and the extraordinary visual effects of Disney, “Beauty and the Beast” opened to a packed house Tuesday at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, evoking an enthusiastic response with showstopping numbers “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Faithful to the 1991 animated feature, the stage musical “Beauty and the Beast” opens with a prologue revealing the origin of the Beast’s hideous exterior and the enchantment of his castle. The audience is immediately introduced to Disney’s fantastic puppeteer work with the enchantress (and later, the wolves) before being transported to the quaint village where Belle (Hilary Maiberger) resides with her inventive father, Maurice (William A. Martin). Disillusioned by her uneventful life, Belle finds more adventure than she bargained for at the doorstep of the Beast. But as the two open their hearts to one another, they find that true love looks below the surface.

The show boasts the use of 81 wigs, 580 costume pieces, a magic mirror with 67 LED lights and a starry sky backdrop that totals 450 pounds of curtain and lights. The set pieces are versatile and extravagant, and the players in this production wonderfully execute the song and dance numbers. A special treat is the comedic duo of Jeff Brooks as Gaston and Jimmy Larkin as Lefou, and the choreography of dancers with clinking beer mugs during the performance of the song “Gaston” takes the scene beyond even that of the animated movie.

According to The Houston Chronicle, the catalyst for Disney’s decision to brave the stage with “Beauty and the Beast” was an article by a New York Times theater critic who identified the 1991 film based on the classic 18th century French fairy tale as the best musical of that year. Disney and Theatre Under The Stars united to make the project a reality, and director Robert Jess Roth combined his creative efforts with choreographer Matt West, designer Stan Meyer and several others to adapt the animated film to stage. During the process, the creators added six additional songs, including “No Matter What,” a duet by Belle and Maurice; “How Long Must This Go On” by the Beast; and “If I Can’t Love Her,” an emotional and moving number also sung by the Beast.

The show premiered at the Music Hall, Houston, Texas, on Nov. 28, 1993. After receiving several modifications, the musical opened on Broadway at the Palace Theatre on April 18, 1994, closing July 29, 2007, after 46 previews and 5,461 performances, making it Broadway’s eighth-longest running production in history. Within a week of opening on Broadway, Disney had offers to do the show around the world. It was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and “Beauty and the Beast” is now on its fourth national tour, featuring new sets and costumes as well as an additional song — “A Change in Me” — performed by Belle. It is Broadway at its finest and not to be missed.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 6:30 p.m. Sunday with matinee performances at 2 p.m. today and Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Visit www.civiccenter.org for ticket information.

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