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The BEAST is visiting Berkeley for the holidays and he wants us to “be his guest”. Berkeley Playhouse has a marvelous production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST now on stage at the Julia Morgan stage through Christmas week Dec 23rd. "Beauty and the Beast” is that rare, enchanted fairy tale that has reinvented itself for every generation, going back hundreds of years," says director Kimberly Dooley. "Disney's adaptation stays true to the story's origins-that love defies our differences, whether physical or cultural, and that family can take any shape-even as a teacup. It's filled with characters who feel their uniqueness keeps them from feeling connected to those around them, and in the end, it's those qualities that bring them together." BEAUTY features a stunning cast of 30 talented actors including the riveting Janelle LaSalle as Belle and the dynamic Tyler McKenna as the Beast. The BPH company players bring Bell and the Beast together to celebrate Disney's classic fairy tale.

This BPH production is based on the 1992 Disney movie that was the first full-length animated film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. The traditional fairy tale originated in the 18th century French fairy tale "La Belle et la Bete." It’s the story of beautiful and bookish Belle, whose inventor father is taken captive by the Beast, an enchanted prince imprisoned in his monstrous form and hidden castle. Belle offers herself in her father’s place and discovers a litany of fantastic characters. The production features the Academy Award-winning score by Alan Menken, including “Be Our Guest,” and a few songs that weren’t on the original animated feature, such as “Human Again.” Music Director Eric Walton brings the great power of this score, and adds the perfect magic with the help of Lyle Barrere’s clever sound design.

The love story has been performed for more than 35 million people worldwide in 21 countries since its 1994 debut at the Palace Theatre in New York. “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” played on Broadway for 13 years, making it the eighth-longest running musical in Broadway history. Director Dooley includes a “once upon a time” opening, narrated by the dapper Daniel Quezada who opens the tale about a prince who refused shelter to an ugly crone. She really is an enchantress who casts a spell, turning the prince into a beast and his staff into half-animate objects. To break the spell, the beast must love someone who loves him back, before the last petal of the rose left by the enchantress falls.

Young Belle played by LaSalle heads a diverse cast and is the loveliest woman in a little French village, where she loses herself in literature as the townsfolk smirk. She and her father, Maurice is played by the excellent Matt Standley, are both odd ducks in this provincial hamlet. The town’s most desired bachelor is Gaston, played by the strong Phillip Percy Williams, who is a handsome bully oaf with all the bad qualities of a egotist.

Belle (JANELLE LASALLE), searches for something more than her provincial life in Berkeley Playhouse's production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, directed by Kimberly Dooley. Performing at the Julia Morgan Theater now through December 23, 2016. Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.

His rousing number “Gaston” kicks in high gear under Dooley’s wonderful choreography, and the amazing energetic Dominic Dagdagan plays the sidekick, Lefou, and steals the stage for every one of his entrances. Belle, and her eccentric, inventor father, Maurice both sing “No Matter What” and LaSalle and Standley soar in the song. Belle fights off the advances of the buffoonish Gaston in favor of her beloved books. When Belle’s father gets lost in the woods, he is imprisoned by the Beast. When Belle finds him, she offers herself as a trade, which gives the Beast and his family of servants a rare glimmer of hope that they might return to their original states. The award-winning Disney musical holds up to its classic tale still after 25 years.

Gaston (PHILLIP PERCY WILLIAMS) and Le Fou (DOMINIC DAGDAGAN) scheme for Belle's Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.

Belle is warmly welcomed in the Beast’s castle by an array of enchanted characters who were once human from Lumiere the candelabra/maitre d' played by the terrific Adam Niemann to the housekeeper/teapot Mrs. Potts played by the likeable Jennie Brick. Both LaSalle and Brick sing “Home” and their voices carry wonderfully through the Julia Morgan Theatre. The romantic heart of the show still is a beautiful love tale. The story is one of our favorite storybook classics yet, “The Phantom of the Opera” comes to mind when you see our heroine captured by the Beast. But he is not the Phantom and all your old friends are there.

This Beast played by the capable Tyler McKenna is more sympathetic for his search for love. McKenna is the Disney sympathetic villain/hero, his voice will impress you in “How Long Must This Go On” and his “If I Can’t Love Her”. Belle, played by the elegant LaSalle is the beautiful, strong bookworm who wanders into the Beast's castle and becomes his window to break the spell. The two struck such sympathy that you really hope the winsome Belle will see "the beauty that lies within" and fall in love with him. Her winning voice in “Home” captures LaSalle’s performance. The cast of 30 all pour their hearts and souls to tell this sweeping, touching classic.

Baritone Williams, as the bully Gaston, sings “Me” and establishes himself as the man who wants to marry Belle. His sidekick, Lafou., played by the frisky talented Dagdagan, has the perfect comic timing with his headstrong boss. His show stopper “Gaston” is marvelous and brings the ensemble cast all on stage with Dooley’s lively choreography. Dooley’s skill and craft is highlighted in the iconic show stopper production of “Be Our Guest” - highlighted by a high kicking, riveting cast of dancers, dressed in Lisa Dantz’ creative costumes of sugar cubes, salt shakers, dishware, utensils, and home furnishings that make up the magical enchanted castle.

Belle (JANELLE LASALLE) encourages her inventor father,

Maurice, (MATT STANDLEY) Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.

“Be Our Guest” - it is the staple musical number the show and animated film is famous for. Sung by the enchanted candle stick, Lumiere, played by the charismatic Adam Nieman. The color and high energy of the direction and dance is eye popping fun. Featuring a great ensemble including; ZINAH ABRAHA, KIMBERLEY COHAN , GIANA GAMBARDELLA, AURELIA JORDAN, COURTNEY SHAFFER, TAYLOR SUNDSTROM, MARISOL URBANO, CAMERON ADRIAN LA BRIE, JOSHUA LAU STEVEN MCCLOUD, DANIEL QUEZADA, CHAD WATKINS KRIS ANTHONY WILLIAMS, THE CHILDREN CAST INCLUDED: ALEXA NELAN, COLETTE BROWN, CHARLOTTE CURTIN, DAVID RUKIN, KAILAMAE RAINA, KIM SANDS, CLIO SALZER, CHARLOTTE YING LEVY AMY CROSSMAN, and SARAH BERTEN.

This Disney spectacle is unforgettable, and lively entertaining. The stage version adds a few new numbers, that further humanize the Beast, the sentimental "If I Can't Love Her" and "How Long Must this Go On?" and McKenna is very poignant during the strong moving solos. Dooley has added additional magic to this production by casting a poignant dancer, Courtney Reece, to act as the enchanted Rose. What makes this show so enduring is the liltingly romantic "Beauty and the Beast" sung by Brick as Mrs. Potts; it is warm and touching. “Belle” sung by LaSalle self-titled girl-power anthem performed with a pitch perfect mix of innocence and determination and a pure, clear voice. The winning Standley as the winky, flirty Lumiere is a show stealer. With his Louis XVI candel hair wig, by Dylan O’Connor, Lumiere provides the show's comic giggles and dazzle.

The performances are fresh and the bewitched characters in the castle turning from human into pottery really touch your heart. The teacup, Chip, played by adorable waif Luka Henrie-Naffaa and Elijah Cooper the boys have a great time in Liza Danz’ Teacup costume. Cogsworth, the stressed out windup clock, played by the frisky, sharp local favorite, Paul Plain. Babatte and Madame De La Grande Bouche, two enchanted women in the Beast's castle, are played by the sexy, flirty Samantha Pistoresi and the engaging theatrical, Jenny Matteucci. Enthusiastic, entertaining, Max Thorne, is perfect as evil doctor D’Arque that tries to commit Belle's father, Maurice. “Maison Des Lunes” features the three; Williams, Thorne and Dagdagan as they plot to win over Belle.

The second act brings some of Alan Menken’s classic work “Beauty and the Beast” sung by the elegant, Brick. “Human Again” sung by the enchanted cast is stunning and staged well by director Dooley. Belle and the Beast sing the closing “Transformation” that will move you to tears. Under the music direction of Eric Walton; he kept the the skilled cast upbeat behind his seven piece elegant orchestra. Kristen Royston’s scenic design is whimsical and dark, full of curling railings and a staircase that opens to the stained glass windows for the castle and moody dark hallways to the Beasts' secret room. Royston’s set works well for the village and pub scene, and she has also created the terrific props for the two and half hour show. Maurice’s inventions and clever bike and folksy garden tools for

the plucky village are all well crafted.

This BEAUTY is my 5th viewing of the show, and in past productions the costumers keep the enchanted cast in clever boxie type prop costumes that clearly show off the teapot, feather duster, chest of drawers and candle holder. Lisa Danz’, Lainy Appleby, and Caroline Walters’ costumes for the enchanted cast were kept clever and fun. The village cast was dressed in classic Disney wear and Belle’s dresses are full of life and color. The Beast was dark, full of capes and wonderful wigs designed by O’Connor. Lyle Barrere’s smashing sound design is on cue with Gaston's slugs and slams to his sidekick Lefou and his dark storm sounds. The lighting in the castle is rich with mood set by the fog, and lighting designed by Leonardo Hidalgo. His magic around the enchanted Rose is a standout and the back lit castle cut glass windows keep the castle enchanted.

This BEAST is a dose of splendidly old-fashioned, high energy entertainment with a tough of center of heart in Belle and the Beast. The cast is solid and the production team has out done themselves. Berkeley Playhouse continues to produce wonderful Bay Area theatre and this production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST closes out 2016. Their spring musical include the East Bay Premiere of BILLY ELLIOT February 16th and URINETOWN, and TARZAN to close out the season of excellent “family theatre”. Disney opens their new live action version of BEAST called “BE OUR GUEST” in March of 2017. But you can be the Beast’s guest at this delightful BPH charming production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

The Berkeley Playhouse Presents



Music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, with additional songs composed by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton.

Directed and Choreographed by Kimberly Dooley,

Music Director Eric Walton

Through Dec 23rd

Julia Morgan Theatre

2640 College Ave., Berkeley

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, one intermission

Tickets: $22-$40; 510-845-8542,

Photo’s by Ben Krantz Studio.

Berkeley Playhouse also announced it will be partnering Oakland's East Bay Children's Book Project,

The mission is to build literacy by putting books into the hands of children who have little or no access to them. Book receptacles from the EBCBP will be placed in the lobby of the Julia Morgan theater, and patrons will be able to donate new or gently used books throughout the run. "I am thrilled to use our production of Beauty and the Beast to promote the incredible work being done by the East Bay Children's Book Project," says Berkeley Playhouse Managing Director, Gretchen Feyer. "Since opening in 2005, they have given out over 1.5 million books to children in need. The iconic image we all have of Belle is of her reading and seeking out books wherever she can. Through this program our audiences can help the young readers of the East Bay keep the magic of reading alive by providing easy access to new books." More information on the East Bay Children's Book Project can be found at

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