Belle and the Beast, dressed in their iconic, gorgeous attire, dance through the fog as Ms. Potts serenades them. After sitting down to rest, their eyes meet. We then hear a little girl in the audience exclaim “kiss!”
I have a special spot for “Beauty and the Beast.” It is among one of my favorite Disney movies. I also had the opportunity to perform along with my friends in Greendale High School’s production of the show as an enchanted plate. So when I found out that the Broadway musical was performing at the Marcus Center, I knew I had to go and see it.
“Beauty and the Beast” tells the story of headstrong and intelligent Belle, who tries to save her father from being imprisoned in a castle. But in return, she must stay in her father’s place in the castle forever under the power of the Beast. The Beast must learn to love her, and earn her love in return. All this in order to break the curse that turned him into a monster.
By far the best part about “Beauty and the Beast” the Broadway musical is its shear nostalgic feeling.
The movie that the musical is based on is nearly perfect. The story is perfect, the pacing is perfect, the characters are perfect, the romance is perfect, the animation is perfect, and the songs are perfect. It fully embraces the Disney fairytale formula while providing its own sense of dignity and style. It even broke the traditions of fairy tales, such as having the prince charming play the villain.
For the most part, the musical takes what made the movie so well and adapts it seamlessly to the adaptation and production. The set, costume, and prop design is as grand and whimsical as you would expect, often incorporating the tiniest of details like electronic candles in the background and the extra ruffles in Belle’s ball gown. The acting, for the most part, is real and genuine and fits the characters as you would expect. And the choreography and musical numbers are as colorful as you would expect.
All of the pieces are put in place to recreate the magic of the film. But there was one problem that irked me throughout the piece. There are certain moments added in that appear to benefit only the children present in the audience. These moments are so frequent and exaggerated that they’re mildly annoying at best and painful and character-breaking at worst. I know that some exaggeration is necessary when making the leap from screen to stage, but here it is taken to the extreme.
For example, there’s a part where the Wardrobe sings Belle an aria while she waits for dinner. But instead of just singing the aria and getting cut off, she has to do all of these ridiculous vocal exercises, take a swig from her flask, and generally be annoying. It’s moments like this that had me pinch the bridge of my nose and desire to whip out my phone and play Angry Birds to pass the time.
The worst of these moments involves the Beast. The Beast is a grizzly, yet tragic and relatable hero. But in the production, he’s sometimes seen as an utter buffoon. He’ll often screech in a high voice and twirl his tail around like the cowardly lion. The Beast did have some cute moments in the movie, but they still fit with his character in a believable way. Here, he’s more kitten than Beast.
While these moments serve to grab the attention of the children in the audience, other moments seemed too inappropriate. The show frequently sexualized the character of Babette, Gaston’s lovers, and even Gaston himself. As Babette bends over, Lumiere exclaims and exuberant “oh la la!” Even the cabaret dancers in “Be Our Guest” had hearts on their crotches.
These moments eventually wear on the adult viewer, we focus less on the classic story and more on the uneven shapes of Gaston’s muscles and the shortness of the Beast. We also notice the interesting instances of Christian imagery in the Beast’s transformation scene – a long-haired human Beast was shown briefly in a t-pose while Belle keeled at his side. And out of all of the characters, Chip had the best accent. It was a pity he did not have more lines though.
Overall, I thought that that the performance was just okay. But that’s the thing, I wanted it to be more than okay. This is one of the greatest stories told in all of literature, and it deserves the very best that musical theater can offer. But all of the contrived and pandering moments suck all of the dignity and flow of the movie, turning it into a shadow of its full potential. If they improved or removed these moments, then the show would be flawless. Regardless, it’s still the classic we all know and love, and it still remains enjoyable for the most part.