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Cast and masks make magic at TITG

'Beauty and the Beast, Jr.' is fun, youthful

Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - Dessa Myatt does a fine job as Belle with her pleasant voice and demeanor. There’s no denying it — Disney sells. Near-capacity crowds at Theatre in the Grove’s current production of “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” are providing ample proof that young audiences and their parents welcome an occasional infusion of family fun in their community theater.

Given the number of kids in the cast (about 30), this would probably be true irrespective of the quality of the production — but if last Sunday’s matinee performance is a representative sample, then the large crowds are well justified.

As with other “Jr.” theatrical productions, the show is an abridged version of the longer musical and hugely popular animated feature.

Under the direction of Donald Cleland, cast members ranging from eight to 18 pour their hearts into almost 90 minutes of non-stop singing, dancing and acting. Given the age range of the kids, it is no surprise that not all of the performances are of equal quality, but musical director Kathleen Lacock and choreographer Amy Nelson have whipped the cast into a solid ensemble that delivers Disney magic with aplomb.

The principal leads are among the more mature cast members, and their experienced performances provide a firm foundation. Dessa Myatt as “Belle” has a pleasant voice and is able to bring the audience along on her character’s journey through a constantly changing world. Nick Nieder as the evil “Gaston” has a commanding bass/baritone voice that complements his equally commanding physique. Demetrius Davis-Boucher as the “Beast/Prince” has perhaps the most challenging role — he succeeds in creating and projecting his voice and character while trapped behind the beast’s magnificent mask for most of the show. Among the supporting players, there are several bright spots, including Spencer Putnam as “Cogsworth,” Andrew Inman as “Lefou,” Jack Thias as “Lumiere,” Catalina Montelongo as “Mrs. Potts,” Alex Kennedy as “Chip” and Athena Van Dyke as “Madame de la Grande Bouche.”Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - The villagers ensemble with Nick Nieder as Gaston and Andrew Inman as LeFou in the foreground take the stage by storm.

Much of the show’s magic springs from the incredible creativity of Pruella and Zachary Centers. Pruella’s masks for the Beast and the Wolves allow the characters to bring the fairy tale to life, and each mask is an individual work of art (when seen close up, the level of detail is astonishing). Son Zachary works on a much larger scale — but the detail, artistry and mechanical craftsmanship of his set design allows a series of seamless transitions from village to forest to castle. Sharon Cunningham’s remarkable costumes also play a big role in creating the fantasy, particularly for the semi-human characters in the castle. Lighting is effective, and the sound — always a challenge with pre-recorded music — is generally clear and crisp. Although performers without microphones (particularly the narrators) are occasionally overwhelmed by the volume.

If you go to see this entertaining show, be sure to take a kid or two along — like a trip to Disneyland, it’s a lot more fun when seen through the lens of a child’s sense of wonder.

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” runs through Sunday, Jan. 25 at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Ave. in Forest Grove with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.


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