‘Beauty and the Beast Jr.’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater by Julia L. Exline

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Aldersgate Church Community Theater presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr., with Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice, and Book by Linda Woolverton. Corey Latta directs an exceptionally talented young cast alongside Musical Director Karli Eddinger in this thrilling production. It’s a ‘Must-See for the entire family!

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Set Designer Jon Poole sets the stage with the walls of a nicely painted stone castle, with an elegant archway framed by bookshelves. A large rose is pinned in the center of the arch, and throughout the show petals flutter to the floor (a clever effect). The stage also has multiple levels, which is utilized for group choreography. Other painted props are brought onstage as the plot unfolds, such as a large chair covered in antlers and cut-outs of wolves. Lighting Technician Leah Juricic uses color to help set the tone, like dreary blue for the lonely castle or wild green for the forest. My favorite technical element, however, has to be the costumes designed by Georgia Harlow. Highly imaginative, colorful, and downright funny, the costumes are inventive and exciting, from the large pink wardrobe to the stout tea pot. Just wait until you see the tricks used to transform the young actors into animate objects (I won’t ruin the surprises, but it does involve some hoop skirts, sandwich boards, and a whole lot of powdered wigs).

We all know the iconic story of Beauty and the Beast, so I won’t bore you with a detailed plot summary. I will tell you that what we have here is a talented young cast who give great performances . Emily Flack is graceful and poised as Belle, a girl who yearns for adventure in her small town with the song, “Belle.” When her somewhat silly father Maurice (Stephen Porter) finds himself imprisoned in the castle of a merciless Beast (David Jarzen), Belle trades her own freedom for his. She yearns for her old ordinary life in a song called “Home,” but soon finds that this mysterious, lonely castle may not be so lonely after all…as the objects around her start coming to life! Choreographer Caroline Austin does a great job with a large number of dancers in “Be Our Guest,” a tap-dancing number full of energy and zest! William Havraneck and Claire Havranek are fantastic as the flirtatious  Lumiere and crotchety Cogsworth, the ever-bickering heads of household.

This show is full of great young actors. Austin Harlow particularly stands out in a brave and hilarious performance of Gaston, with his song “Gaston” easily earning the biggest applause. A particularly daring acting choice earns him this ovation, and while I won’t ruin it, trust me, you’ll know when you see it! McKenzie Sterner shines as the hilarious Madame de la Grande Bouche (the oversized wardrobe), and Logan White softens the tone as the sweet, wise Mrs. Potts. As Belle and the Beast deepen their relationship through hilarity and heart, their final waltz across the stage is a tender moment for everyone.

When it comes to children’s theater, the main goal is to have an evening of family fun. I don’t have any kids, yet I was genuinely excited to go see one of my childhood favorites performed onstage. And I was not disappointed. My grown-up, adult-self had just as much fun as the children surrounding me.

Aldersgate Church Community Theater’s beautiful production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr. is pure delight! It has excellent direction, clever design, eye-popping special effects, and is performed by a bright young cast. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Beauty and the Beast Jr. plays through January 26, 2014 at Aldersgate Church Community Theater – 1301 Collingwood Road,  in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, purchase your tickets at the door or online.

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