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Review: Moonlight’s spectacular ‘Beauty and the Beast’ may break records

Jenna Lea Rosen as Belle and Michael Deni as Beast in Moonlight Stage Productions' "Beauty and the Beast"
Jenna Lea Rosen as Belle and Michael Deni as Beast in Moonlight Stage Productions’ “Beauty and the Beast” at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.
(Adriana Zuniga Photography)

With a talented 35-member cast and most seats already sold out, Disney musical a promising reboot for local theater industry

You know a show is going to be a hit when the lead star’s singing voice gives you goosebumps from the very first notes. Or when the audience’s cheering after the first big dance number is so prolonged that the actors onstage have to encourage them to stop. Not to mention that most of the production’s reserved seats for an expanded run were sold out before opening night.

If there was any doubt pandemic-weary audiences are ready for a comeback — at least for a family-friendly outdoor show — then Moonlight Stage Productions’ “Beauty and the Beast” is a good litmus test. But saying the audience’s reaction at the Wednesday night (July 21) opening performance at Moonlight Amphitheatre was simply post-COVID crowd euphoria does a disservice to this spectacular staging, which could break Moonlight’s box-office record.

The production was directed by Jamie Torcellini and choreographed by Bill Burns, who were both part of the original Los Angeles and Broadway productions in the 1990s. They know the show inside out and pack it with warmth, visual humor and big-wow dance scenes, like the beer stein-clanking “Gaston” number that highlights the show’s 35-member cast. And music director/conductor Elan McMahan makes a welcome return to the orchestra pit, leading an 11-member orchestra that sounds much bigger than it is.

Jenna Lea Rosen, who’s just 22 years old, is stunning as the heroine Belle, with a gorgeous and well-modulated voice and a gracious, confident stage presence. Michael Deni, as the Beast, has a rich singing voice and somehow manages to bring through a sweet, boyish personality to his character, despite his massive costume. Evan White steals so much of the show, pumping and preening as the muscle-bound villain Gaston, I wished he had more scenes. Other standouts, in roles as the Beast’s enchanted servants, are Michael Paternostro as the flirty candelabra Lumiere, fussy Jerald Vincent as Congsworth the clock and Bets Malone as the sweet teapot Mrs. Potts. And Zane Camacho is like a cartoon come to life as Gaston’s goofy sidekick Lefou.

Evan White as Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast" at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.
(Ken Jacques)

Based on the beloved 1991 Disney animated film, the stage adaptation by Linda Wolverton has all of the film’s beloved songs plus additional numbers that help flesh out the characters. Some of these newer songs are the show standouts, particularly Rosen’s big-finish performance of “A Change in Me,” Deni’s heartfelt “If I Can’t Love Her” and the ensemble number sung by the household objects, “Human Again.”

It’s hard to replicate the animated cast of thousands and luxurious French castle backdrop in the film, but Jonathan Infante’s projections help set the scene. They also expand the scope of the popular dancing cutlery scene in the all-cast “Be Our Guest” musical number. The show features lighting by Jean-Yves Tessier and sound by Jim Zadai and high-quality rented costumes. There are also some fun flying effects by the company Vertigo in the finale.

The Moonlight Amphitheatre holds up to 2,000 people a night. Many of the reserved seats for performances are sold out, except at two new Tuesday performances added last week. But plenty of seating on the grass hill behind the snack bar is still available.

“Beauty and the Beast”

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sunday, plus July 27 and Aug. 3; through Aug. 4

Where: Moonlight Amphitheatre, Brengle Terrace Park, Vista

Tickets: $17-$59

Phone: (760) 724-2110

Online: moonlightstage.com

A full-cast dance scene from "Beauty and the Beast" at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.
(Ken Jacques)


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