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Beauty and the Beast at the Durham Performing Arts CenterThe Durham Performing Arts Center will present a new and improved version of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, produced by NETworks Presentations, LLC (Seth Wenig, executive producer), on June 8-13 in its brand-new, 2,800-seat, state-of-the-art theater, in the American Tobacco District in downtown Durham, NC. Original Broadway director Robert Jess Roth and choreographer Matt West, scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer, lighting designer Natasha Katz, hair designer David H. Lawrence, and Tony Award®-winning costume designer Ann Hould-Ward are ALL repeating their roles for the current national tour of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, which features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by the late Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and a book by Linda Woolverton, based her screenplay for the award-winning 1991 Disney animated film.

“After putting the production up all over the world for 15 years, the creators had some ideas about how to tell the story better” explains Justin Glaser, a 34-year-old 6’5″ Kentuckian who plays the Beast opposite Liz Shivener as Belle. “All of them revisited the show, made changes, and tried new things. They cut two songs [the “No Matter What” duet between Maurice and Belle and the “Maison des Lunes” number sung by Gaston, Lefou, and Monsieur D’Arque] to help the storytelling, and they changed around some things. It’s the same story, just told a little more creatively, with the focus on the storytelling and the relationships.”

Glaser says the recent tightening up of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST may have shortened the show 10 or 15 minutes. He adds that whether Triangle theatergoers have previously seen BEAUTY AND THE BEAST on Broadway or on tour, they will be seeing a brand-new set for this production.

“The new set design enables the choreographer and the director to open up the space,” Glaser explains, “and have more people dancing at the same time in the production numbers.

Beauty and the Beast at the Durham Performing Arts Center

Besides Justin Glaser as the Beast and Liz Shivener as Belle, the tour cast includes Nathaniel Hackmann as Gaston, Keith Kirkwood as Cogsworth, Merritt David Janes as Lumiere, Sabina Petra as Mrs. Potts, Christopher Spencer as Maurice, Erin Coors as Babette, Michael Fatica as Lefou, Jeremiah Frank Burch III and Reese Sebastian Diaz as Chip, and Jen Bechter as Madame de la Grande Bouche. Actors and actresses playing Townspeople, Enchanted Objects, etc., include Carleigh Bettiol, Tommy Bracco, Jeff Brooks, Steven Czarnecki, Jennifer Elise Davis, Robyn DeGuzman, Anthony Fett, Gabriela Gamache, Alex Gonzalez, Brandon Haagenson, Julia Louise Hosack, swing Tony Howell, swing/dance captain Chandon Jones, Benjamin Lynch, Clifford Lyons, Jessica Moore, Sarah Rolleston, Heather Russell, Nate Suggs, and Allyson Tolbert.

Liz Shivener as Belle and Justin Glaser as the Beast

Liz Shivener as Belle and Justin Glaser as the Beast

In addition to director Rob Roth, choreographer Matt West, scenic designer Stanley Meyer, lighting designer Natasha Katz, hair designer David Lawrence, and costume designer Ann Hould-Ward, the tour creative team for Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST includes associate director Sam Scalamoni; associate choreographer Connor Gallagher; music director/conductor Carolyn Violi; fight director Rick Sordelet; sound designer John Petrafesa, Jr.; illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer; puppet designer Basil Twist; and production stage manager David Zack.

“[BEAUTY AND THE BEAST] is a great show,” claims Justin Glaser. “It’s being well received all across the country…. It’s a classic love story with beautiful music and exciting dancing, and just a great time in the theater.”

Disney’s 1991 animated motion-picture version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, featured the voices of Paige O’Hara as Belle and Robby Benson as the Beast. The film won the 1992 Academy Awards® for Best Music, Original Score (Alan Menken) and Best Music, Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast,” with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman). The academy also nominated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for Best Picture of 1992, and the film had two other candidates for the Best Music, Original Song Oscar®: “Be Our Guest” and “Belle.”

The Broadway musical of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, which incorporated the title tune and “Be Our Guest” and “Belle” an integral part of its score, made debut on the Great White Way on April 18, 1994 at the Palace Theatre and later transferred to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, where it closed on July 29, 2007 after a combined total of 5,461 performances. That show starred Susan Egan as the beautiful Belle and former Raleigh actor Terrence Mann as the Beast.

Although the show it was also nominated for the 1994 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical (Robert Jess Roth), Best Lighting Design (Natasha Katz), and Best Actor, Actress, and Featured Actor in a Musical (Terrence Mann, Susan Egan, and Gary Beach as Lumiere), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST only won the Tony for Best Costume Design (Ann Hould-Ward)

Justin Glaser, who previously toured in 2007-08 with ANNIE, as laundryman Bundles McCloskey, and in 2008-09 with JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, as an Apostle and understudy for Pilate, is a latecomer to the world of professional theater. Born and raised in Ft. Thomas, KY, and educated at Northern Kentucky University, where he earned his BFA degree in Theatre in 2000. After Glaser moved to New York City 10 years ago, he initially worked for a brokerage firm and then for a film company; but the bite of the theater bug was deep, and he joined the tour cast of ANNIE in 2007.

After he won the role of the Beast in the current tour of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, starting in February 2010 and running through June 2011, Glaser says, “I went to the library and checked out many different versions of the fairy tale.” He also watched the 1991 Disney movie, French director Jean Cocteau’s phantasmagorical 1946 film La belle et la bête, and some Universal Pictures monster movies, as well as some Shakespearean films, to generate ideas to use in his portrayal of the handsome but selfish prince that a witch transforms into the mean, angry Beast.

Justin Glaser says, “I [also] watched nature documentaries about bears and lions to get ideas about movement and certain reactions that they have in the wild….

He adds, “I think if children are old enough to come to the theater, they should be fine with the show…. The storyline follows what happens in the movie very closely. If children are afraid of the movie, then they’ll be afraid of the stage play.”

“The Beast undergoes such a dramatic transformation [at the end of the show] from wild animal to handsome prince,” Glaser says. “You only have a few scenes to make this transition; and it’s challenging physically, emotionally, and vocally to create a convincing portrayal of this character.”

Some overprotective parents may be worried that the scenes in which the bellowing Beast takes Belle prisoner might be too scary for young children. “The Beast is very angry at the beginning of the show,” notes Justin Glaser. “But it’s the parents’ job to explain these things to their children in advance.”

SECOND OPINION: June 8th Raleigh, NC NEWS & OBSERVER preview:

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents

Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at 7 p.m. June 8, 7:30 p.m. June 9 and 10, 8 p.m. June 11, 2 and 8 p.m. June 12, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. June 13 at the DPAC, in the American Tobacco District, at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.


by Robert W. McDowell
Robert McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review of Raleigh, NC. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.E-mail RobertM748[at] to start your FREE subscription to this weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter.

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