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Perfect holiday gift

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‘Beauty and the Beast’
Arkansas Repertory Theatre
Dec. 2


The Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” provides the perfect family outing this holiday season.

Unlike the national touring production that Celebrity Attractions brought to Little Rock years ago, the Rep’s effort, directed by Brad Mooy, entices its audience without the unnecessary use of pyrotechnics or an overly large cast. The lighting design by Andrew Meyers seamlessly bonds with Christopher McCullon’s set design. The movement from scene to scene happens so quickly that even those who have the shortest attention span will remain alert.

Elements from the movie are illustrated in this production, but the designers do not try to compete with the cinematic version. Their adaptation is not over the top, but still striking and, more importantly, tasteful.

The actors in the Rep’s version take on the expected cartoonish qualities with their characters, but not quite to the extent that one would see in a typical cheesy children’s theater performance.

Jonathan Burgard portrays Gaston as typically burly and macho while lacking in self awareness, but he plays up these traits in a way that exposes his goofy and absurd nature. As Gaston spends most of his performance with a blur in his eyes, he provides an excellent foil for Belle. His acting choices give the audience the chance to view Belle as more of an independent woman who struggles for her right to choose.

Songs that were written after the Disney animated film and for the Broadway production, such as “Home” and “A Change in Me,” allow actress Holly O’Brien to present Belle as more of a three-dimensional character.

Ron Hutchins’ choreography is clean and precise. In many musicals the dance sequences are so involved that the audience is over-stimulated and has a hard time following the action. Here, however, the infamous song and dance numbers “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” carefully make the most of the space as well as chorus’ abilities.

The numerous costumes, all created by Rafael Colon Castanera, are well designed and graceful, and it was pleasing to not see masks used in the production.

The play, which continues through Jan. 1 at the Rep, caters to all age groups and has a central theme specific to the festive season. We are reminded of the importance of kindness and gentleness, which are often much harder than the ability to love or hate.

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