Some stellar lead performances and groundbreaking diversity in casting are the two best reasons to catch CASA 0101, TNY Productions, and El Centro Del Pueblo’s 99-seat staging of Disney Beauty And The Beast even without a key factor in the original Broadway production’s 5461-performance run, a production design sumptuous enough to inspire oohs and aahs.

It’s hard to believe that over a quarter-century has passed since Disney’s take on the fairytale classic made movie history by becoming the first full-length animated feature to score a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Those who haven’t yet experienced Disney Beauty And The Beast live onstage may wonder how its 1994 Broadway adaptation managed to recreate with living, breathing actors the animated film’s Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts, servants transformed by an enchantress’s spell into items of furniture, especially in production numbers like “Be Our Guest.”

Suffice it to say that Disney Beauty And The Beast’s book writer Linda Woolverton and the show’s creators came up with ingenious solutions likely to surprise those who may have thought it couldn’t be done.

The 84-minute film’s original songs (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman) have been supplemented by a number of additions (lyrics by Tim Rice), most notably Belle’s “Home,” Gaston’s “Me,” and Beast’s powerful Act One closer “If I Can’t Love Her,” which serve to flesh out and enrich Woolverton’s characters, and though the stage musical’s longer running time will test the attention span of children under five (i.e., leave those toddlers and preschoolers at home), this is family entertainment for elementary school-aged and up, the kind that adults can enjoy every bit as much as the kiddies.

Making this particular Disney Beauty And The Beast an audience draw for L.A. theatergoers is a diversity in casting both groundbreaking and reflective of our city’s mix of Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Angelenos of European ancestry.

Under Rigo Tejada’s confident direction, Filipina-American Andrea Somera is as luminous a Belle as Belles get, acts the part with conviction and smarts, and sings in a bell-clear soprano that suggests Miss Saigon’s Kim in her future.

East Los native Omar Mata combines a towering stage presence and powerful vocals as a Beast just as likely to throw a temper tantrum or express childlike glee as he is to frighten and intimidate.

Andreas Pantazis’s brawny, self-loving, scene-stealing Gaston and fight captain Maxwell Peters’ deliciously daffy (and besotted) LeFou earn bonus points for administering punches and knee jabs as physically draining as they are hilarious.

Caleb Green gives Lumiere Maurice Chevalier panache and standout dance moves (but too often forgets to keep the character’s candlestick arms in an upright position), Jeremy Saje makes Cogsworth a fussy, fuming treat, Jacquelin Schofield’s Mrs. Potts is maternal warmth personified, and Sean Vargas is a child charmer as Chip.

Rosa Navarrete’s saucy Babette, Allison Flanagan’s operatic-voiced Madame de la Grande Bouche, Luis Marquez’s dotty Maurice, Matthew Noah’s creepy, crawly Monsieur D’Arque, and Heather Forte, Michael Gallardo, and Judith Limon’s scatterbrained Silly Girls all have their delightful moments, and Jesse Maldonado gets to play the cursed Prince not once but twice.

Ensemble members Forte, Gallardo, Sebastian Gonzalez, Henry Alexander Kelly, Gabrielle Maldonado, Maldonado, Noah, Adrian Uly Ochoa, Andrea Ramirez, dance captain Angelina Rangel, and Brisia Rivera harmonize melodically under Caroline Benzon’s assured musical direction while giving their all to Lia Metz’s high-energy choreography in “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again,” with special snaps to Metz’s take on the precision “stein-ography” of a rousing “Gaston.”

Tops among production design elements are Sohail e. Najafi’s vibrant lighting and Abel Alvarado’s inventive storybook costumes (though removing the “dishes” from “Be Our Guest” tableware transforms a quartet of dancers into human characters and not the inanimate objects they should remain both here and later again in “Human Again.”).

Less successful at recreating Disney magic is a scenic design (by Marco De Leon) that relies too much on projections (by Sheiva Khalily) on a sheet-like backdrop and a castle that can’t come close to recreating the dark terrors the Beast’s lair deserves. Vincent A. Sanchez’s sound design (once it kicked in about ten minutes into Opening Night) provides a clear mix of amped vocals and prerecorded instrumentals.

Unfortunately, sound design glitches were not the only technical mishaps at the performance reviewed, suggesting that a weekend of previews might have gotten the production into more review-worthy shape by Friday’s Opening Night.

 Disney Beauty And The Beast is produced by Felipe Agredano, Emmanuel Deleage, and Edward Padilla and executive produced by Conrado Terrazas. Jerry Blackburn and Miguel “Michael” Carachure are stage managers. Noah Dobson alternates in the role of Chip. Sarah Kennedy understudies the role of Belle.

Though Disney Beauty And The Beast may be a musical best left to big-budget productions for maximum impact, even scaled down at CASA 0101 it offers much to entertain theatergoers of all ages. That its diversity in casting will likely be reflected in its audiences is additional reason to cheer.

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CASA 0101 Theatre, 2102 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles. Through January 21. Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 4:00. Reservations: 323 263-7684

–Steven Stanley
December 8, 2017
Photos: Ed Krieger


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