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  • 'Beauty and the Beast' comes to Gateway's Patchogue Theater

    Published: July 15, 2008

    Do you feel the need to travel to Broadway for gorgeous, expensive, eye-catching spectacle? Rest easy and stay local.

    The Gateway Playhouse's current, opulent production at the Patchogue Theatre of the Disney-fied "Beauty and the Beast" is simply breathtaking, in all departments: from the impressive whirling, moving sets and evocative projections of Kelly Tighe, to the colorful, Lewis Carroll-inspired costumes that come from Florida but are "supervised" by Marianne Dominy, to Christopher Landy's mood enhancing lighting design, to a rich sounding orchestra conducted by Jeff Hoffman, who keeps the show constantly aloft and in motion, to a cast that is top-notch in every aspect-vocally, dramatically, and choreographically.

    The choreography, by Michelle Weber, has just the right touch of humor to sometimes relieve the intensity of the rest of the story, particularly in the jolly "Be Our Guest" romp with clashing mugs.

    And Dom Ruggiero has once again directed with a feather touch and creative mind that makes all of the extravagant onstage goings-on lighter than air and twice as interesting.

    If the Alan Mencken/Howard Ashman/Tim Rice score tends, in the spirit of most Disney formulated scores, to wander a bit, it contains enough show biz knowhow to range from the rafters-rattling ("If I Can't Love Her") to the delightfully danceable ("Gaston" and "Be Our Guest"). In fact, "Beauty and the Beast" is one of the Disney factory's most impressive and touching products, a show that, thank God, soars, and puts the current "The Little Mermaid" in its rightful place-in the deep.

    It's hard to imagine a better cast for this production. Comedy is guaranteed along with musical integrity in Allan Snyder as the combination of the Elvis-Presley and "Grease" reminder and insufferably self-loving Gaston, and his Sancho Panza like sidekick, Lefou, played with comic relish by Jonah Spear. Every time the book by Linda Wolverton threatens to become too involved in the romantic, these two levelers, helped immeasurably by their songs, arrive and relax the audience into guffaws.

    Erin Maguire is an adorable pixy as the wackily in love (for the kids) and sexually ambitious (for the adults) Babette, a transformed by magic spell French maid. Ms. Maguire is constantly in motion in several directions as she pursues Davis Edwards, as Lumiere, another of the spell's transformations. Mr. Edwards, in a role that comes straight from Jean Cocteau's film of "Beauty and the Beast" illuminates the evening with two hands that are ornate, burning, expressive candles.

    As Maurice, Belle's eccentric and lovable father, Robert Lydiard is treasurable. Balancing his role as comic relief and enabler, and possessed of a fine voice, he is particularly touching in his duet, "No Matter What" with his daughter Belle.

    Essentially, though, the focus of "Beauty and the Beast," true to its title, centers on the characters of Belle and the Beast. As Belle, the beautiful village "strange one" who reads books, Ryan Kelly brings to the proceedings a fine voice and a mischievous personality that results in a mixture that makes her unrelievedly adorable-just the right approach to lift the character from caricature. Her final shared-with-the-audience realization that beauty, after all, comes from within, is done with grace and loveliness, and her scenes with the beast in Act Two are among the most moving in the production.

    Josh Davis is, in a word, astounding as the Beast. His voice is thrilling and well deserving of the cheers it elicited from an opening night audience that stopped the show after each of his numbers. But more than this, his character, as is the phantom in "Phantom of the Opera" (which reveals itself as baldly stolen from the original "Beauty and the Beast" legend), is multifaceted.

    Tortured and tormented by his own transformation from prince to beast, angry to the point of madness at his plight, yet possessed of a heart that can be touched by beauty and love and yearning, Mr. Davis transmits all of this with a fervor and a sensitivity that touches the heart. His is a masterful portrayal, alone worth the price of admission.

    But then again, this production is seamless and first rate, with no weaknesses in any department. The cast is universally dazzling, the production itself as satisfyingly spectacular as a Ziegfeld Follies (which it sometimes, tongue in cheek, imitates) and ultimately worthy of its standing, shouted ovation. The Gateway has outdone itself with this one. It's difficult to imagine a more successfully opulent and rewardingly tasteful treatment of a Disney property than this.

    "Beauty and the Beast" continues at the Patchogue Theatre every night except Monday, and with some extra family-friendly matinees and early performances, through July 26. The box office number is 286-1133.

    Theater review: 'Beauty and the Beast'

    Published: July 18, 2008

    'Beauty and the Beast," Disney's first Broadway hit musical, gets the full Broadway-scale treatment on Long Island by Gateway Playhouse. In the process, artistic director Robin Joy Allan may have discovered a new star. Josh Davis as the Beast rips the kids-show ambience created by director Dom Ruggiero into dramatic focus with a seering "If I Can't Love Her." His love, of course, is the bookworm beauty, Belle, appealingly played by Ryan Kelly.

    Among the Beast's spell-cursed half-human household goods, Broadway vet Susan Bigelow as Mrs. Potts, the teapot, warms us with her decaf take on the title song, while candleholder Lumiere (David Edwards) leads the show's signature chorus number, "Be Our Guest," to Michelle Weber's sparkling kitchenware choreography and Jeff Hoffman's noteworthy music direction. Kids and grown-ups alike will be entranced by Kelly Tighe's castle that spins like a windup music box. Altogether they lift the show from self-parody and Allan Snyder's cartoonish cad/villain Gaston.

    BOTTOM LINE. If you bring your kids (especially daughters), this tale as old as time becomes forever young again.

    WHAT Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"

    WHEN | WHERE Through July 26, Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 E. Main St. (7 p.m. curtain on Fridays, weekends)

    Beauty meets the beast

    Published: July 17, 2008

    The Gateway Playhouse is bringing the timeless tale of Disney's Beauty and the Beast to Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts. The show enjoyed a run on Broadway from 1994 until 2007, and is an enjoyable retelling of the classic Disney animated film from 1991.

    The Beast is a prince transformed into a hideous creature after refusing to help a beggar because of his appearance. The beggar turns out to be a beautiful witch that not only transforms the prince into the Beast, but then transforms his servants into household items. This curse could only be broken if the beast falls in love with a girl who also loves him back by the time the last petal falls off a rose that the witch gives the beast.

    Many of the actors in the show have performed on and off-Broadway and give very high quality performances. There are many cast members in the show, with a main cast consisting of over 10 character roles and an over 20-member ensemble that appears throughout. This quickly leads to scenes and musical numbers that feature many people on stage at once, making performances such as the popular "Be Our Guest" to be just as fun and frenzied as it is in the animated film.

    Of special note is the very complex set that was built for the performance by Gateway. It features a rotating castle with multiple stories, staircases, stages, and even hidden chambers in which the scenes of the show unfold. The castle weighs over 5,000 pounds and even has a "basement" in which a crew member runs the five motors that move this castle around. Additionally, computers have to run several different aspects of the Beauty and the Beast set and technicians have created some of the more involved set pieces of the show. There is a lot of technology involved in this production and it comes together very impressively.

    The show itself has several differences to the animated feature that flesh out the story as well as adapt it for the stage. First, whereas in the animated feature the servants are all already household items, in the musical version they are humans that are slowly becoming household items as the show progresses. For instance Cogsworth, who is transforming into a clock, develops a wind-up on his back. Additionally, the Beast (Josh Davis) is shown to be significantly more vulnerable and nervous about trying to impress Belle (Ryan Kelly) through additional scenes and songs that develop this.

    Beauty and the Beast is completely family friendly and fun for all ages. The show will be playing at the Patchogue Theatre until July 26. To buy tickets, call 286-1133 or 1-888-4TIXNOW, or visit