Theater of Youth, which performs for young audiences and often through schools, has taken some hard hits during the pandemic. It is roaring back with an excellent production of the musical “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” directed by Lisa Ludwig, with choreography by Bobby Cooke.

The theater employed understudies in an effort to outwit Covid-19. The play’s opening was, nonetheless, temporarily derailed by the disease but returned this past weekend with understudies seamlessly taking over the roles of Gaston and Mrs. Potts.

This is the tale of Belle, a young woman who is held prisoner in the castle of a beast who has a secret. He is a prince, cursed, along with his entire magical household, to lose his human form forever, unless he can learn to love another person and to be loved in return. He must do this before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose.







Don’t be surprised to see the youngest audience members wearing copies of Belle’s iconic yellow dress that has been seen since Disney’s animated version of “Beauty and the Beast.” Genevieve Ellis plays Belle for Theater of Youth.


Photo by Christy Francis


Everything about the show will be familiar to kids raised on the 1991 Disney animated film, from the characters, to the plot, to the songs, to the clothes. Indeed, when Belle finally makes her appearance in the iconic yellow ball gown (a dress that was also being worn by numerous girls in the audience) the moment was greeted by youthful gasps of recognition. The set is designed by David King, with costumes by Ken Shaw. Children were mesmerized by the sight of a full pit band making live music in full view.

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The production is lavish by local standards, but whereas the multimillion-dollar Broadway version was a dizzying and incessant blur of Disney “imagineering,” this littler production allows its young audience to use its imagination. A child could easily fantasize becoming a clock or a feather duster, or re-creating the spectacular “Be Our Guest” number using household objects. The transformation of a beast back into a prince, which magically propelled the actor up into the air and spun him around like a top on Broadway, is accomplished here, just as wonderfully, with a waving cape.







Beauty and the Beast Theater of Youth

The cast of the Theater of Youth’s “Beauty and the Beast” gathers for the singing of the popular song “Be Our Guest.”


Photo by Christy Francis


Genevieve Ellis as Belle and Steve Copps as Beast are sensational. Ellis has a clear and euphonious voice that easily navigates the show’s tunes. Copps makes excellent use of the resonant notes of his powerful lower register. They are adorable together, as spirited Belle, scene by scene, brings out the boyish vulnerability in Beast.

The understudies took to the stage with such confidence that it seems impossible that they were filling in for others. At the performance I saw, David Wysocki, who also understudies the Beast, played Gaston, Belle’s boorish macho suitor. He is superb in the role of the pompous blowhard, impressively executing even the most complicated choreography to perfection, and landing Gaston’s constant comic brilliantly moments.

Karen Harty impressively stepped in as Mrs. Potts, who gets to sing the beloved title song, and brings the show its biggest dose of maternal love.

All of the household servants are wonderful as played by a litany of first-rate Buffalo musical theater performers. Jacob Albarella plays Cogsworth, the stressed clock who runs the house. Louis Calaiacovo is flirtatious Lumiere the candelabrum who courts Babette the charismatic feather duster, played by Elizabeth Arnold. Grace Sullivan is endearing as Chip the cup. Charmagne Chi plays resounding Madame de la Grande Bouche, the armoire, with panache.

Cooke, who has provided the excellent choreography, also plays Belle’s lovably befuddled father.







Beauty and the Beast Theater of Youth

David Spychalski as Gaston and Genevieve Ellis as Belle in the Theater of Youth’s production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”


Photo by Christy Francis


The ensemble, including a trio of “Silly Girls,” fills the stage with joy. They execute the choreography flawlessly and give the production a full and melodious sound. The expert music direction is by Joe Isgar.

The direction of this show, which is longer than the typical theater of youth offering, keeps things moving. The plot never loses momentum, and the characters are both vivid and distinct. This tale may be old as time, but it certainly should not be missed this time round.

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast”

Presented by Theater of Youth at the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St. Performances are 2 and 7 pm Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through May 22. Tickets are $20 to $30. All patrons older than 2 must wear a mask while in the building. theaterofyouth.org or 884-4400.

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