"I think this is the best show that the Disney team has ever written," said Director David Judson. "It has this special effect where magic can transcend upon all age levels."
The story begins with an egocentric prince who denies a beggar asking for a warm place to stay. Consequently, the prince is turned into a hideous beast who must learn the meaning of love and compassion; if he doesn't find mutual love before a magical rose's petals wilt, he will remain a beast forever.
"I think the biggest message of the play is transformation," explained Judson. "Disney did a magical job showing that everyone goes through transformations, some worse and some better than others."
The Beast stays inside his castle for years, in solitude except for his servants who have been converted into talking, inanimate objects. Rather than egotistical, the former prince has become temperamental and heartless, the attributes of a beast.
When Belle, a spirited, independent young woman, shows up at the castle in search of her imprisoned father, the house's occupants perk up: Could this be the girl to break the spell?
On the exterior, the idea seems implausible -- how could such a beautiful girl love a beast? However, Belle, labeled an outcast because of her "odd" love for books, is not so different from the Beast, who is excommunicated due to his hideous features.
"I don't think Belle is so much 'odd,' which is why she questions it so much," explained Joy Sherratt, the actress who plays Belle. "To her, that's just who she is. I think that the townspeople just don't understand her."
As a middle school teacher, Sherratt sees these situations every day.
"It's just the unknown sometimes," she said about the interactions between students, and even adults. "Instead of taking a step back and trying to get to know the person with an open mind, we automatically feel uncomfortable because that person is different."
"Beauty and the Beast" shows that being different isn't so much of a bad thing. "No matter what they say, you make me proud," Belle's father sings to her. "You stand out from the crowd."
The play elucidates a theme that is appealing to all ages.
"It goes beyond the fairytale aspect of it," Sherratt explained. "We're playing these bigger, larger-than-life characters that aren't just for kids."
But children in the audience loved the play, lining up afterward to take pictures with Princess Belle.
"A lot of these characters are very human, and they all have their own troubles and tribulations," Judson said, noting that the audience identifies with them. "Ultimately, because they see the mistakes these characters make, they realize that even though we poke fun at each other, we are all human, and I think that even today we take that for granted."
Although Belle is initially taken as prisoner in the Beast's castle, she soon comes to realize that he is much more than a bitter monster.
"I wonder why I didn't see it there before," she realizes in song.
Last week "Beauty and the Beast" transported audience members into a fairytale world, but it also brought them back to their everyday lives -- with the realization that beauty isn't just what's on the surface, but rather at the core, that describes who a person is.
"I hope everyone was able to feel this magical experience," Judson said. "I think that if we all take a step back and look beyond what's skin deep, we can find beauty in everyone."
"Beauty and the Beast" continues at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow night; and at 2 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. Tickets are $17-$33; call 931-4848; visit www.firehousearts.org; or go to box office at 4444 Railroad Ave. .
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