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Magic abounds in Mesa's 'Beauty'

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Magic-making musical theatre happens at Mesa's Palms Theatre during their 'Disney's Sleeping Beauty' production, judging from yesterday's imaginative performance. Capture the kind of holiday wonder that emanates from a child's heart by treating your favorite little person to the show that runs through December 29.

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"Wonderful stories always begin in a book," says an impressively-costumed period Narrator (Jackson Fisher) as he greets his pre-school and elementary audience. And the conjuring begins.

Lively fairies cast spells and a wonderfully intimidating Maleficent (Kira Galindo), along with her adorably mischievous sidekick Fumpfel (Cullen Law), curses the infant Princess Aurora. Meanwhile, the well-mannered youngsters, eyes glued to the stage, begin crossing the road of the real into make-believe with timid scatters of applause.

True, the fairies wield wands, and Malificent's scepter-spells are deliciously evil. The Magician in Chief, however, is clearly director Rob Watson.

With 20+ children's show credits up his sleeve over the last decade for the Prather Entertainment Group (producer who owns The Palms) in Mesa, a soft-spoken Watson explained before Tuesday's show the relationship he's helped build with the area schools, churches and home school families. That fan foundation has come to expect the kind of marvel 'Beauty' yields.

Watson describes his job as one that "transitions the gap between how the same story can be told" in varied ways. Referring to kids' likely knowledge of the Disney movie and this show's narrator literally reading the first page of the book to the audience, he loves that his show uses theater to augment and "demonstrate the many different ways to tell a story."

It's a medium full of fresh possibility. Perhaps it never gets old, for the audience or the actors, because Watson never gets old. "Mentally, I think I'm a lot like a 10-year-old child," he grins. "If it holds my attention or I think it's funny, odds are good it will appeal to the kids."

For this show, it doesn't hurt that Watson considers himself a hopeless romantic. Believing in the magic of a true love that conquers all, it seems a part of his own heart is what draws the enthralled youngsters in.

It makes for good, solid theater. More important, it is enchanting.

About half an hour into the hocus-pocus, there's a captivating scene change as the fairies literally fold up the cottage in low light and Aurora (Karissa Anderson), alias Briar Rose, slips seamlessly into the bewitching woods. The newly-initiated kids murmur appreciative little "Wows" and enlightened "Aaaahs" of understanding.

It's spellbinding--the active process of dispelling an audience's disbelief. Magic emanates from the excited whispers like, "Oh! I know this song!" during Tchaikovsky's music while Aurora , alias Briar Rose, sings a lovely 'Once Upon a Dream.'

Magical fun continues and small voices wonder, "How'd they make that change??" when Aurora's birthday gown flashes back and forth from pink to blue at the flick of a wand. Surprised gasps arise when the cottage's broom and bucket begin 'dancing' while cleverly injected 'Fantasia' music washes out over the crowd.

Shortly thereafter, Fumpfel incites genuine uninhibited laughter when he answers, "Yes, Your Disgrace!" to Malificent's musical order to 'Find the Girl!' The duo's ridiculously infectious choreography includes an unmistakable Lady Gaga monster claw moment. Spontaneous claps of delight follow. Applause returns when the truly magnificent dragon, designed and built by Costume Mistress Mary Atkinson, joins the fight scene with Prince Phillip (Stephen Serna).

Throughout, the singing is full, the blend is pleasing and the acting is spot on. And the magic? It's not so much the magic of true love's kiss that wins the day as it is the magic of wide-eyed wonder that elicits an unabashed love from the kids.

Magic merges with reality after the show and creates some of the most memorable moments. The children get to visit with the cast members. They understand then that Merryweathers can live inside Ashlees. Princess Auroras and Maleficents can double as Karissas and Kiras. They easily deduce that magic, indeed, must live inside each of their own young bodies, too.

The Narrator's last words to his listeners Tuesday, just before the meet and greet began, perhaps best characterize what, exactly, has transferred during their brief time together:

"Theater magic is what we do for you. Theater magic is what you give to us."

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