The Maltz Jupiter Theatre has succeeded at staging a tale as old as time in a completely new way. Its production of Disney Beauty and the Beast, onstage through December 16, is at once thrilling and heartwarming. But beyond the spectacular voices and charismatic performances, this show boasts one feature that makes it an absolute can’t miss—and that’s puppets.
Under the leadership of Tony- and Emmy-nominated director John Tartaglia, the Maltz has decided to use one-of-a-kind puppets (created by Puppet Kitchen International) to portray the show’s inanimate characters and objects. Naturally, there are actors operating such memorable items as Lumiére (Brendan Malafronte), Cogsworth (Paul Louis), and Mrs. Potts (Laura Turnball), and they successfully emote while singing, dancing, and operating complicated dolls. But the stagecraft of it all takes fan-favorite numbers like “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again” to a whole other level of awesomeness.
At the heart of any Beauty and the Beast production lies its titular characters. Danielle Bowen is phenomenal as the strong-willed, vivacious reader with a heart of gold. Her glorious voice rings through the auditorium as she effortlessly traverses the highs and lows of Belle’s register. Zach Nadolski brings a very different energy to her short-tempered, hairy suitor. He plays to the part’s innate comedy by imbuing him with all the angst of a pubescent teen, while also managing to capture the character’s evolution spurred by love.
This musical is also all about the supporting cast, and man, this one is next-level good. Enough cannot be said about the hilarious duo of Gaston (Kevin Hack) and Lefou (Ricky Cona). Both look the part to a T, with Hack’s bulging biceps and machismo attitude second only to Cona’s sprite spirit and fearless physical humor. Backed by an “inebriated” ensemble, Hack and Cona bring down the house with “Gaston,” an ode to all this charming villain stands for, from antler-driven decorating to male domination.
Turning to the castle and its inhabitants, Malafronte stands out as Lumiére. His French accent is over the top but absolutely perfect for this jazzy master of ceremonies. When tasked with guiding the cast through the showstopper that is “Be Our Guest,” he more than rises to the occasion, engaging in a sultry tango with Babette (Alix Paige) one minute before throwing himself on the staircase and lamenting a life once lived the next.
With songs like these, this show demands great choreography—and Shannon Lewis delivers. “Be Our Guest” is a Busby Berkeley–esque dream, complete with diving silverware and prismatic sets and lighting. In contrast, “The Mob Song” is small and intimate, but no less impactful. Tight group movements add a sense of momentum and crescendo to the musical’s climax beautifully.
Whether you’ve seen Beauty and the Beast in all its famous iterations or you’re a B&B newbie, this family-friendly production is worth the jaunt up to Jupiter. From the technical achievements to the award-worthy cast, the Maltz’s Beauty and the Beast breathes new life into a cherished fable about the selfless nature of love and its ability to see beyond skin-deep.