‘Beauty’: A tale as old as time

“Once upon a time in a faraway land” begins one of the most delightful, heartwarming family musicals of our time. It is, of course, the classic love story “Beauty and the Beast.” Broadway by the Bay presents the show from July 12 to July 29 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center.

The sixth-longest running show in Broadway history, “Beauty and the Beast” opened in New York in March 1994, and received nine Tony Award nominations including Best Musical. Based on the Academy Award-winning animated feature, the stage version accompanies a book by Linda Woolverton and includes the movie’s memorable melodies. Music is by Alan Menken and lyrics are by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.

Set in a small provincial town in France, the show tells the story of a young headstrong woman, Belle, and the misunderstood Beast, really a prince trapped in a spell. If the beast can learn to love and be loved, the spell will be broken. As Belle visits the castle she comes into contact with magical characters including a talkative teapot, a sentimental candelabra and a comical chipped cup. Through these animated objects, she sees the inner beauty in the Beast.

In her first role with Broadway by the Bay, Kimberly Jensen stars as Belle. She says, “Playing a Disney princess is every girl’s dream,and for me that dream has come true. Belle is a strong-willed, intelligent and literate woman. The turning point comes when she sings ‘A Change in Me.’ Then Belle realizes that by visualizing the gentle loving soul in the beast, she, too, has grown from dreaming about fantasies to becoming a richer soul.”

Making his fourth appearance with Broadway by the Bay, Noel Anthony plays the Beast. He says, “The Beast is first portrayed as mean and brutal. He wants to look for love but his appearance doesn’t give him that opportunity. It is only when he realizes Belle may break the spell that he comes under her influence and becomes more likable.” He adds, “I want the audience to feel some sympathy for the beast, and to realize that beauty lies within.”

For Anthony, the most difficult part of his portrayal is movement, mostly because of the heavy, hairy costume.

Brooke Knight, Broadway by the Bay’s award-winning artistic director, helms the production. She says she has been surprised to see how the musical appeals to all age levels: “It is actually an adult loving tale, so sweet and touching, yet with a lot of humor.”

Technical considerations in the show, which feature elaborate costumes and special-effect lighting, are among the most complicated aspect of producing it. Choreographers are Berle Davis and Ashlee Fife, and Rick Reynolds is musical director.

“This tale of oldest time relates that beauty is within you, not as you appear. The magnificent music enhances the story. Because it is simple we can all relate to it. Bring someone you love for this very sentimental true love story,” Knight says.

The theater is at 600 N. Delaware St. Tickets are $17 to $42. Call (650) 579-5565 or visit broadwaybythebay.org.

jgross@examiner.com

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