Ari Susu-Mago plays the role of Belle in Ashland High School’s production of Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast." The show opens Wednesday and will be the first time the Broadway play has been performed in the Rogue Valley.

Photo courtesy of AHS Theater Dept.

Fairy tales aren't just kids' stuff. Disney took one of the best, "Beauty and the Beast," and turned it into a lively animated movie. This was followed by the stage version, a huge hit on Broadway, with book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Now Ashland High School Theatre Arts offers us its richly entertaining version in its Mountain Avenue Theatre.

Doug Ham's set is once again equal to all the demands, whether it's the town, the forest (with wolves on the prowl), outside Belle's house, the tavern, the castle (with its battlement and staircase) or the Beast's lair/west wing. Watch out for the exquisite surprise revealed within the castle walls. How could it not warm Belle's heart?

The costume design by Emily Ehrlich Inget, assisted by Azalea Micketti, is truly exceptional, in part because of the ingenious novelty wear of the castle servants. There's the teapot of Mrs. Potts (Abigail Dock), whose left arm is the spout. On the trolley she wheels in a teacup showing the face of Chip (Ryan Mills). Or how about Lumiere (Charlie Bass), a candelabra, holding the candles aloft and so precise in his enunciation? As for Cogsworth (Forrest Wells) as an anthropomorphic clock, time is the essence of his comedy. He thinks his costume makes him look like "a very small brown whale." Now doesn't Babette (Tessa Williams) sound French? Armed with a feather duster, she is seductive in a slinky tight-fitting black and white ensemble. Lastly, there's the elegant life-size wardrobe designed for Mme. de la Grande Bouche (Savannah Julian).

If there's a French influence, it's because the fairy tale appeared in a collection by French poet Charles Perrault entitled "Tales of Mother Goose." In "Beauty and the Beast," Thomas Wood plays Gaston in a cocky style, with a deep vibrant voice; he laps up the adulation of the so-called "Silly Girls," but it's Belle he is bent on marrying. His colleague is Lefou, and Josh Houghton, in his final production at AHS, gives us a fine madness, and leaves us laughing at his antics. Belle's father, Maurice (Daniel Burt), is an inventor who demonstrates his wood-chopping machine to our amusement. (David Pederson actually designed the contraption.)

Outstanding is the choreography by Liisa Ivary that includes a high-kicking routine reminiscent of the Rockettes; a tavern interlude when the clink of tankards reminded me of the drinking songs of musical comedy of yore. But the stunner is the hit song "Be Our Guest," in which the cast disports itself as items of cutlery and china.

Ari Susu-Mago brings an appealing freshness to the no-nonsense Belle and sings with warmth, while Jeffrey Star, as both the uncouth Beast and charming Prince, performs strongly and softens convincingly. The song "Human Again" suggests a nice touch when the castle servants appear attired with their "novelty" worn off, as it were.

The whole show has been a big challenge for director Bruce A. Hostetler, but his background and extensive experience enabled him to earn the trust of his young actors, technicians, and musicians (directed by Holly Johnson) &

close to 100 persons.

The story of how a Beast is transformed into a Prince, when he fully lets go of the imprisoned Beauty, "speaks to everyone," Hostetler says, "who has ever used their appearance, intelligence, or powers of persuasion to convince someone to give them love or attention, without offering themselves."

Performances are on March 12, 13, 14, 15 at 7.30 p.m., with matinee on Sunday, March 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at AHS Main Office, Paddington Station, Tree House Books, Music Coop and all Ashland elementary schools. For more information, call 482-8771 ext. 260.