LAKEWOOD - The dying beast rises into the air like Regan, who is possessed by the devil in the horror flick "The Exorcist."
Fog envelops the area, and the ugly, but gentle, creature reverts back to the dashing prince he once was.
In the Beck Center for the Arts splendid production of "Beauty and the Beast," the scene at the end of the musical is no less magical, jaw-dropping and breathtaking than it was three years ago. The Beck Center first staged a production of "Beauty" about Christmas 2005 and decided to present encore productions in 2006 and again this year.
The same talented, vivacious cast returns, led by award-winning director Fred Sternfeld.
One may argue it's understandable to bring back the production a second time, but a third time or more is overkill.
Try telling that to the little boy sitting behind me Saturday night.
The boy, who might have been seeing the show for the first time, was squealing with delight especially at the antics of actor Josh Rhett Noble, who plays the conceited villain Gaston, who is in love, no OBSESSED, with the beautiful Belle. Noble, looking like movie star Steven Seagal with a ponytail, gives Gaston an over-the-top swagger, flexing his muscles proudly and flashing a smile bearing his teeth.
Every syllable Gaston utters, every move he makes seemed fresh: From the smug expression that drips from his face as he tosses people to the ground to the rough, confident manner in which he hugs Belle.
Each performance feels fresh in this third and final production, directed with the right mix of humor, enchantment and sensitivity by Sternfeld.
As the beast, Dan Folino is as ferocious as he's been the past two years, aided by the sound effect of a roar.
Folino also finds the softer, sensitive side of the beast. Without forcing anything, he pours his heart out in anguish at the Beast's struggle to make Belle like him. And when it comes time for the Beast to be gentle, Folino is as tender as a soft, juicy steak.
Tenderness prevails during the song "No Matter What," in which Belle's strange father, Maurice (an eccentric, but compassionate Bob Abelman), assures her he'll always lover her no matter what others think of her.
Natalie Green, as Belle, and Abelman, as Maurice, have tremendous chemistry; they feel completely at ease and appear loving to each other, like a daughter and father who've been close their whole life.
Green shines as Belle, playing the role with grace and conveying genuine sentiment. Her expressive eyebrows and loving voice work especially well for her. You might start crying when Belle's voice breaks as the Beast lay dying at the end.
Energetic supporting cast members each bring their own brand of eccentricity to the various castle inhabitants, who have been turned into silverware and household items, as a result of a spell.
What would a holiday show be without at least one child in the cast? Thankfully, "Beauty" has a lovable character named Chip a little boy turned into a teapot because of the same spell.
Miles Sternfeld, although in seventh grade, could pass for a younger boy, and his face is full of hope and optimism.
Redemption is an element that fits in perfectly with the holiday season, and there's plenty of it in "Beauty."
If you take your child to see one show this holiday season, make it the Beck Center's "Beauty."
You'll walk away knowing why this show ran for 5,464 performances on Broadway making it the sixth-longest running show in Broadway history.
The humor, colorful, detailed costumes and special effects will dazzle you and your child, and the lovable characters and timeless themes will leave you smiling.
No matter how many times you've seen it.
The third and final production of "Beauty and the Beast" takes the stage 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 3 p.m. Sundays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays, as well as a 7:30 p.m. performance Dec. 29 at Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood.