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Livingston Theatre Company's 'Beauty and the Beast' brings new energy to tale as old as time

The Livingston Theatre Company (LTC) invited Rutgers students to be its guests to its rendition of "Beauty and the Beast." – Photo by Justin Jajalla

This weekend, the Livingston Theatre Company (LTC) ended its 26th season with a grand performance of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" at the Livingston Student Center.

Despite being previously depicted in both an animated Disney film and a Broadway musical, LTC's production of "Beauty and the Beast" brings a modern twist to the familiar narrative.

This was partly achieved through the amalgamation of all the cast and crew's fresh ideas. LTC's production, according to its director Kaila Parkin, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, was the first to feature more than 20 cast members since 2019.

With the task of managing such a large cast, Parkin called upon assistant director Owen Butler, a Rutgers Business School sophomore, co-choreographers Bonnie Terenzi and Erin Meiklejohn, Mason Gross School of the Arts juniors, and stage managers Sarah Werkmeister and Sydney Dailey, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and first-year, respectively.

While having so many different perspectives may have derailed other projects, it completely enhances "Beauty and the Beast," especially in its stage setup. The closer sections on both stage left and stage right, implemented to showcase the enchanted rose in its case and a collection of books, helped the production stand out from its predecessors.

This aspect and other elements that captured the magic of the show's royal setting can be credited to set contractor John Baker, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, set artist Samantha Pegher, a Mason Gross first-year, and Melody Czukoski, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year.

Another technical element that stood out was the lighting, designed by Mason Gross first-year Katie Brusseau, which provided smoother, aesthetically pleasing transitions for the transformations of the prince into the beast, as well as the spotlights on the enchanted rose. 

But "Beauty and the Beast" wouldn't have been the same without its iconic costumes and props, especially within the intricate set-up of Chip's (School of Arts and Sciences first-year Jackie Owens) costume, the gold details of the other plates and silverware and the dresses for the villagers.

Shaena Harasty, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, coordinated the costumes along with Mason Gross first-year Estella Burke and dual School of Arts and Sciences and School of Communication and Information first-year Alexa Garcia.

The steady vision of Parkin and the rest of the crew allowed actors to completely shine in their roles.

"This show could not have been a one-woman production," said Parkin. "I feel eternally grateful to have so many dedicated teammates."

Maddie Miley, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, was wonderful as the cheerful, intelligent and brave Belle. Consistently strong vocals and stage presence, noticeable in numbers such as "Home" and "A Change in Me," allowed for a lovable portrayal that kept audiences rooting for the character. 

Sam Tunkel, a Mason Gross first-year, portrayed the complex character development of the Beast, conveying his conflicting emotions throughout the play.

Matt Perez, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, made for a humorous villain and embodied entitlement perfectly as Gaston, specifically in the character's solo numbers "Me" and "Gaston."

But it was the enchanted objects that contributed to the show's most captivating and hilarious aspects. Parkin described them as "forces to be reckoned with."

School of Arts and Sciences senior Aaron Carr led "Be Our Guest" and portrayed the welcoming Lumiere. Carr had great chemistry with Hannah Mastrostefano, a Mason Gross junior who played the flirtatious Babette. The two caught the audience's attention each time they were on stage, even when they weren't singing or speaking.

Although the leads and supporting actors turned in impressive performances, LTC's production truly shined when it brought most of its cast members together, especially in its ensemble numbers "Human Again" and "The Mob Song."

"Beauty and the Beast" was ultimately a fun and heartwarming wrap-up to a busy and successful season for the company. The show highlighted everything that makes the troupe so special, from its on-stage talent to those behind the curtain.

"The cast and crew of this production are not only the 'meat and potatoes' ... but they're also the dessert and the beverages and the whole restaurant at that," said Parkin.

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