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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ken ekAlan Mendez (Prince-Beast), Ashley Hiester (Belle), “Beauty and the Beast,” June 14 - July 1, Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre. Copyright - Kenneth Ek CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ken ekAlan Mendez (Prince-Beast), Ashley Hiester (Belle), “Beauty and the Beast,” June 14 - July 1, Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre. Copyright - Kenneth Ek

It’s not all about getting into ‘The Beast’ mode at MSMT

Saturday, June 16, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

“Beauty and the Beast” may be best-known for its dancing silverware extravaganza “Be Our Guest” scene, but it is the heart-breaking ballad “If I Can’t Love Her” that rests at the core of the story about a prince transformed into a beast as punishment for his cruel ways and warned to change or forever stay a beast.

“If I Can’t Love Her,” which was added when the Disney animated film was made into a 1994 Broadway musical, was composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Tim Rice.

The song was the introduction to the musical for 2017 Muhlenberg College graduate Alan Mendez, who has performed the song for years.

Now, he says, playing the Beast in the Disney musical. which opens MSMT’s 2018 season, is a “dream role,” and he sees the part as more than cartoonish.

“This is high-stakes,” he says. “There is desperation. The story is really dark. The Beast has cursed all his servants, as well as himself.”

Nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, “Beauty and the Beast” tells the story of Belle, a bookish young woman trapped in a town where no one understands her. When she meets the Beast, he and his household of servants who have been enchanted into objects hope she will be able to help the Beast break the spell before it is too late.

Mendez says one of the challenges will be to express the emotions of the Beast while wearing a heavy costume and substantial makeup.

“A lot will lie in how I use my voice,” he says.

While there is plenty of comic-relief in the antics of Lumiere and Cogsworth, Mendez feels that the musical also will draw on the story’s roots as a fairytale.

“I see the Beast as a spoiled, sheltered rich kid who has anger-management issues and poor social skills,” Mendez says. “He meets someone who says ‘No’ to him for the first time and that changes him. This is really a story about change and listening to others.”

It is Mendez’s fourth appearance at MSMT. His first time was as a sailor in “HMS Pinafore” when he was a senior in high school. Last year, he played Claude in “Hair.”

It is Mendez’ first time working with New York director Gary John La Rosa, who says he wants to find something fresh in the “tale as old as time.”

“‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a beloved stage musical that has charmed theatergoers for more than two decades,” La Rosa says.

“Our production features a glorious cast, full orchestra, extraordinarily beautiful production values and effects. I am thrilled to make my MSMT debut with it.”

The MSMT season includes “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” starring Muhlenberg College alumni and stage, television and internet star Frankie Grande, and the return of Atlas Circus Company with the family-friendly circus show “Tal: Beyond Imagination.”

“It’ll be a spectacular season,” says MSMT artistic director Charles Richter, who directs “How to Succeed in Business.”

“We have a great deal of talent on board for the entire season. This is Muhlenberg’s cultural contribution to the community.”

MSMT 2018 Season

Muhlenberg College

Baker Center for the Arts,

Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance

2400 Chew St., Allentown

“Beauty and the Beast,” June 14 - July 1, Empie Theatre

“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” July 11 - 29, Baker Theatre

“Tal: Beyond Imagination,” June 27 - July 28, Studio Theatre

Tickets:; 484-664-3333