Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Disney's Beauty and the Beast onstage

I may be going to see the musical version of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" next week.

As much as I love Beauty and the Beast, and the Disney version, the musical is actually one of my least favorite versions of the story. Maybe it partly has to do with having been in the musical in high school and I have other associations that go along with it; however, I don't like a lot of the changes they made to the movie.

The pluses to the musical: the song "Human Again," which was originally written for the movie but cut out (and included later in the collector's dvd edition) is fun and helps develop the characters of the enchanted objects. Also, the song "If I Can't Love Her," sung by the Beast at the end of Act I, is very touching.

When I was a kid, I thought Lumiere especially was the funniest thing ever, but as I grew I found his humor more slapstick and not quite as hilarious as I once did. But who knows, this time around maybe I'll find it funny again, I'm sure his part depends largely on the actor and director.

Image from here

Additions to the movie that are not so hot:

Belle's extra songs are just cheesy. They threw them in, I'm sure, to give her plenty of solos, but the music and the words are disappointing. In one song she claims she had, "No change in heart-a change in me." What does that actually mean? How is your heart separate from yourself?

Gaston's song includes these lyrics: "You've been dreaming just one dream/nearly all your life/hoping, scheming, just one thing/will you be a wife?/will you be some he-man's property?/Good news, that he-man's me." Yes, I'm sure there's an element of humor in it, and certainly no one can go away from the show thinking he's not incredibly self-centered, but the song overexaggerates his character to the point where it's unbelievable. (Sadly, I didn't have to look up those lyrics, I still remember them from being in the play years ago).

Overall, it's like the musical targets an even younger audience than the Disney movie. Everything that should be obvious is spelled out anyway. Instead of the audience seeing Belle give up her freedom in place of her father's and letting the situation and acting relate emotion, she has to sing a song about how the castle doesn't feel like home and if the Beast thinks that what he's done is right, then he's a fool. It just trivializes what could be a very powerful situation.

Plus, the Disney movie implies that Belle stays at the castle for at least several days (although if you compare it to the timeline of the Father, it can't be very long, but I don't think the creators of the Disney movie were super careful in thinking through how much time elapses--for example, in the movie, the narrator says at the beginning that the rose would bloom till the Beast's 21st year. First of all, that's really young to be expected to have found true love for life. Secondly, Lumiere sings in "Be Our Guest" that for ten years he's been rusting, meaning the Beast was a 10-year-old kid when cursed, if you follow the logic. Which is why, in the musical, they change the rose to blooming "for many years.") But the musical makes it appear that the entire plot happens in about a day. It's harder for Belle to switch costumes in a stage version, but to have the Beast go from totally selfish and cruel to kind and gentle in a day, and for Belle to go from revulsion to being in love, is completely unrealistic. And that's the strongest asset of the fairy tale--love that is not love at first sight, but developed over time and based on character.

Another minor detraction in the live version is the costumes themselves--though often very elaborate and beautifully made, there's only so much you can do to make a human into a believable teapot, wardrobe, plate, etc. At least in animation, the characters can be the right size for their object and move appropriately. I guess that's where imagination comes in--I am a firm believer in imagination--but just compare the stage characters to the real ones:

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