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'Beauty and the Beast' Enchants at the Wharton Center

"Beauty and the Beast" is at the Wharton Center through February 23, 2014

'Beauty and the Beast' Enchants at the Wharton Center

By Stefanie Pohl. CREATED Feb 19, 2014

Disney's tale as old as time, "Beauty and the Beast," makes for an enchanting adventure at The Wharton Center for the Performing Arts this month. Presented by NETworks, the tour of the popular Broadway musical is in town until February 23, 2014.

As a child of the 90s, I grew up in a golden era of Disney films, when the studio released beloved hits "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," and "The Lion King" in rapid succession. And while each of the films have made their way to the Broadway stage ("Aladdin" opens in March this year), there's no doubt that "Beauty and the Beast" remains a gold standard as both a film and a stage musical. 

"Beauty and the Beast" first opened on Broadway 20 years ago, and has played to over 35 million people throughout its Broadway run and tours. 

And after opening night Tuesday at the Wharton Center, the show can add hundreds more delighted audience members to that tally. 

From families with young girls dressed in their Disney princess ensembles to couples and groups of friends of all ages, the audience for "Beauty and the Beast" was the most diverse and excited crowd I've seen at the Wharton Center. 

That excitement comes from a familiarity and fondness for the classic story of bookish beauty Belle and the cursed Beast, whose common experiences of being misunderstood and judged help them find a kinship that turns into love.

To see the magical world of enchanted objects, Belle's provincial home town, and dancing plates come to life on stage is beyond a delight for all. Favorite numbers like the showstoppers "Be Our Guest" and "Gaston" are even more over-the-top and colorful live, thanks to the talented cast, bright costumes, and detailed set pieces. 

Standout performances include Tim Rogan as the egomaniac Gaston and Jordan Aragon as Gaston's sidekick Lefou; whether doing a swoon-worthy flex of a bicep or a tumble following a sucker punch, these actors bring a lot of fun physicality to their roles. 

Another fun and fantastic duo is James May as Cogsworth and Hassan Nazari-Robati as Lumiere, relishing in all of the bickering, can't-live-with-or-without-each-other banter. 

And as the title characters, Hilary Maiberger and Darick Pead are the quintessential Disney couple come alive on stage; from Belle's charming giggle to the Beast's attempt at confident swagger, Maiberger and Pead bring the characters we know and love to life. 

What the stage adaptation also adds to the already beloved story is a deeper understanding of how Belle and the Beast fall in love, and what is at stake for the members of the castle staff if the spell cannot be broken. 

Instead of simply remaining inanimate objects forever, Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and others are given moments in the musical to express their fear of losing their humanity. Though a dark theme not really elaborated in the film, the musical examines how the characters feel as they approach an impending death.

Another addition to the musical are sweet moments between the Beast and Belle that are either glossed over or don't appear at all in the film. A particular favorite scene is when the Beast shows her the library, and admits to Belle that he never learned to read. Belle then reads King Arthur aloud, and Belle's kindness along with the Beast's zeal for the story is an endearing moment in their relationship.

"Beauty and the Beast" has always been a love story, but it took the stage musical for me to really understand and appreciate how these two people - lonely in their own but similar ways - fell in love. 

This tale as old as time, like Belle's favorite books, is worth revisiting many times over.

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" is at the Wharton Center through February 23, 2014. Click here for details and ticket information.