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Beauty and the Beast

A tremendously entertaining production of a classic hits TMP

Beauty and the Beast is an unadulterated delight. Photo credit: Kathleen Dollarhide

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Disney's version of Beauty and the Beast carries with it an enormous amount of emotional and nostalgic weight. As such, future retellings of this story are hit with a double-edged sword of expectations: audiences are already prone to be onboard, but stray too far from the material they know and love, and they'll likely riot. The Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, adapted from the beloved 1991 animated film, is about as true to the source material as possible, while still expanding undernourished parts to create a more complete story.

Tacoma Musical Playhouse has brought this production to their stage, and I'm pleased to report that it is a tremendously entertaining, sometimes awe-inspiring show. The story is known to everybody, with the lovely, bookish Belle (Cherisse Martinelli) finding herself in the spacious manse of the Beast (Brandon Hell), having bargained for her own imprisonment in exchange for freeing her father (Joe Woodland). While in the castle, Belle meets the servants who -- like the Beast -- have been cursed, transformed into items like clocks, candles and teapots. It's here where TMP's Beauty and the Beast finds its greatest strength: Cogsworth, Lumierre, and Mrs. Potts (Chris Serface, Mauro Bozzo, and Diane Bozzo, respectively) are positively delightful and radiant in their supporting roles.

Meanwhile, back at the village, the brawnily handsome and dimwittedly dastardly Gaston (Jimmi Cook) plots to force Belle into marriage, at any cost. It's here and, honestly, everywhere else in the show that I must draw attention to the nearly perfect casting. Cook, who was recently seen in a similar mimbo role in Return to the Forbidden Planet, ideally brings the buff, cartoonish aesthetic of Gaston to life, and a similar sentiment colors every aspect of this show. Every actor embodies the roles that were ironically concretized in the animated movie, while also bringing enough of their own personalities to bear. Martinelli and Hell find tenderness in their mismatched romance, while the supporting characters (particularly the always impressive Mauro Bozzo) liven up every scene.

As is always the case with shows at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse, the production is stuffed with richly designed sets and lavish musical numbers. At times, like the giddy over-enthusiasm of "Be My Guest," there are a couple dozen dancers onstage, with ambitious costume- and set-changes throughout. Though such a great technical undertaking resulted in one or two fumblings, such is the nature with a production of this size. For the most part, the complex set pieces went off without a hitch, and as much attention was paid to spectacle and character. Though Beauty and the Beast functions on fairy tale logic, with our two protagonists falling in love far too quickly, Martinelli and Hell's performances -- combined with the indelible music and some fantastic supporting performances -- make us believe in their love.

Jon Douglas Rake has directed and choreographed a winning production of a show that has so much good will, but that lives or dies on its execution. TMP's Beauty and the Beast hits all the right spots.

Beauty and the Beast, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday; through July 29, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 6th Ave., Tacoma, $22-$31, 253.565.6867,

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