Sensualist composer Alan Menken beguiles yet again at the Walnut Street Theatre

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast now graces the venerable Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia until December 31.
If you don’t know the story, or have not even seen a production, you owe it to your psyche and general mental health to rush immediately to 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, to see this brilliant, lavish musical retelling of the beloved fairy tale. Alan Menken, genius of stage and screen, winner of 8 Oscars, 11 Grammys, A Tony and other awards too numerous to mention, appears to have divinity flowing in his veins instead of plasma. He is joined by his co-conspirators Howard Ashman and Tim Rice who wrote such haunting lyrics for this musical as well as Little Shop of Horrors, Smile, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita, among scads of other brilliant endeavors
The plot of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast can be simply described. An ignoble Prince ignores the ancient rule of hospitality to a stranger and suffers the consequences. He is cursed to live as a heinous beast until a virgin maiden declares her love for him. Centuries pass until the enchanted castle is found, a wise virgin sees the Beast for his hidden, noble qualities, and, fearing his death, pleads for him not to die because … she loves him. Voila! All in the castle are removed from the thrall of magic, all have spiffy new, fashionable clothes, and the handsome Prince is about to wed Belle as the curtain falls. 
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast has many lessons to teach those who approach fairy tales with an open mind. The Beast here is the indefatigable and startling Daniel Wisniewski, who looks, sounds, and acts imposing as the Beast and as the Dashing, young Prince. Belle is Julia Udine, Ravishing beauty, bookworm, and totally immune to the Patriarchal cliche of manhood displayed with frightening gusto by Chris Stevens as Gaston. Also frightening is the Lefou of Giovanni DiGabriele who is repeatedly and soundly punched, slapped, and dragged about the stage while still loving his beau ideal Gaston.
The three narrative engines of the plot are all fine indeed. Fran Prisco, Dana Orange, and Mary Martello. Fran Prisco, the James McAvoy of Philadelphia, shone as Cogsworth. Dana Orange displayed his skill for comedic timing and song as Lumiere, and the legendary Mary Martello, Philadelphia’s answer to Angela Lansbury, was a touching and intelligent Mrs. Potts. Kudos to the youngsters who play much of the role they share inside a teacup, Joseph Fierberg and Raphael Sommer as Chip Potts. The busiest quick-change artist of the evening must go to the beautiful Adam Hoyak, who first appears as a Bookseller, then twice as a dangerous, sexy Wolf, and finally as Monsieur D’Arque. 
Need it be said that all the Production Values were first-rate, top-notch, and visually splendid? There, it has been said. 
Leaving the theatre we ran into Fran Prisco, in his everyday disguise as a normal person. He was just as charming offstage as on.  
We all seem to be inundated with floods, wars, genocide, hunger, and catastrophes galore. You need the arts to feel alive, and to have strength to carry on, because, dear reader, we love you. By all means, see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to refresh yourselves for the holidays.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is at the historic Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia until December 31, 2023. Next will be Edward Albee’s tragic comedy, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, beginning January 9, 2024, Groucho: A Life in Revue, the Musical, Starts February 13, 2024, and many more. For tickets, information, subscriptions, call 215-574-3550, or visit: .

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