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'Beauty and the Beast' a sparkling holiday treat

You already know the story, no doubt: bookish Belle longs for excitement and finds it – and how – when she rescues her father from the Beast’s dungeon. The Beast keeps her as his prisoner in her father’s stead, and the pair don’t exactly hit it off. Meanwhile, back at Belle’s village, her would-be suitor Gaston plots, quite evilly, to force her to marry him. Belle and the Beast learn to look past each other’s prickly behavior, and their discovery of true love averts catastrophe. Gaston gets his. The end.

Village Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast hews closely to the look of the animated film, from the spectacular gloom of the Beast's castle to the yellow ball gown Belle wears in the final scene. The story is the same, of course. But this Beauty is so full of fresh wit and sparkle that even the most Disney-weary parent should consider taking the kids as a holiday treat.

The cast is terrific. Jennifer Paz (Belle) and Eric Polani Jensen (Beast) are solid romantic leads. Gaston (Troy L. Wageman) at first bears a strong resemblance to Seinfeld’s Puddy, with his slightly absurd good looks and humorously smug self-assurance, but he turns menacing in the second act as he becomes angry at Belle’s refusal to marry him. His sidekick, the gap-toothed LeFou (John David Scott) turns in some nimble physical comedy. Lumiere (Nick DeSantis) looks like Liza Minnelli in a Louis XIV wig -- and he seems to be having great fun as he sashays across the stage stealing every scene he’s in.

“Be Our Guest” is a standout musical number, a purple-and-gold fantasia that captures the “wow” factor of the animated original. The stage is filled with whirling, dancing “cutlery” dressed gold bodysuits, “plates” in fishnet stockings, and a pair of salt and pepper shakers that perform a rapid-fire tap dance. The cast draws the audience in with the same cheerful, energetic hospitality that their characters offer Belle.

The only distractions on the night we visited were microphones that sputtered from time to time, and the occasional slightly muddy sound.

The show is probably best for kids ages 6 (or so) and up, although Village Theatre offers a cry room at the back for younger children who become restless. The house is relatively small, so your child can experience 5th Avenue-quality musical theater in an intimate setting, with great views of the action onstage. It’s well worth the drive from Seattle.


Beauty and the Beast plays at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre in Issaquah through Jan. 4, then moves to the Everett Performing Arts Center from Jan. 9-Feb. 1. Tickets are $22-$58 (Issaquah); visit www.villagetheatre.org to purchase.

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