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Actors shine brightly in Musical Theatre’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Walt Disney Co. has so appropriated the classic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” that I wonder how many people even know anymore the 1946 version by playwright and film director Jean Cocteau, one of the great masterpieces of cinema? Next year, Disney will release a live-action remake of its 1991 animated film, which it adapted for the Broadway stage in 1994.

 J. J. Mancini plays the Beast in Musical Theatre Southwest's production of "Beauty and the Beast. " (SOURCE: Jason Ponic)

J. J. Mancini plays the Beast in Musical Theatre Southwest’s production of “Beauty and the Beast. ” (SOURCE: Jason Ponic)

Musical Theatre Southwest is presenting “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” a show that is too massive for MTS’ usual black box theater. It’s also probably a lot more expensive to produce, so the much larger African American Performing Arts Center, where this is being performed, will allow more ticket sales. Unfortunately, by moving to a larger theater, this production loses the intimacy that MTS is known for. This is also the first MTS show I’ve seen that does not employ a live orchestra, and the piped-in soundtrack pales in comparison with the brilliance and spontaneity that music director Shelly Andes usually brings to MTS shows.

“Beauty and the Beast” is about transformation and so must have seemed a good choice for the Christmas season.

In this classic fairy tale, we see a beastly, selfish individual grow into a caring, loving person through the power of love, much as Scrooge is transformed in “A Christmas Carol.”

But unlike the Dickens classic, “Disney’s Beauty and Beast” is too encumbered with theatrical paraphernalia to convey the story in the simple manner it warrants. Disney invested millions of dollars to produce its 1994 Broadway production and overwhelmed that initial audience with its theatrical pyrotechnics; by all accounts, it was quite impressive, but unfortunately it also weighed down the simple wisdom of the story’s theme.

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While I was not moved by this production, you can hardly blame the actors, who gave it their best. Jeff Chavez was very good as the eccentric inventor and loving father of Belle, the “beauty” of the title, but for some reason the mic did not pick up his voice very well during his songs. This was a problem also with J.J. Mancini, who played the Beast; apparently, the mask interfered with the projection of his voice.

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is playing at the African American Performing Arts Center, 310 San Pedro Drive NE, Albuquerque, and closes on Jan. 1. Go to musicaltheatresw.com or call 265-9119 for reservations.

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