Beauty and the Beast Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Robert Jess Roth. Choreography by Matt West. Scenic design by Stanley A. Meyer. Costume design by Ann Hould-Ward. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Sound design by Jonathan Deans. Hair design by David H. Lawrence. Illusion design by Jim Steinmeyer, John Gaughan. Prosthetics by John Dods. Associate director Keith Batten. Associate choreographer Kate Swan. Fight direction by Rick Sordelet. Dance arrangements by Glen Kelly. Music coordinator John Miller. Orchestrations by Danny Troob. Musical supervision and vocal arrangements by David Friedman. Music direction and incidental music arrangements by Michael Kosarin. Cast: Christy Carlson Romano, Steve Blanchard, with Grant Norman, Jeff Brooks, Alma Cuervo, David de Vries, Jamie Ross, Aldrin Gonzalez, Henry Hodges, Pam Klinger, Alex Rutherford, Marguerite Willbanks, Ann Arvia, Gina Carlette, Keith Fortner, Tracy Generalovich, Jill Hayman, David E. Liddell, Michelle Mallardi, Jennifer Marcum, Christopher Monteleone, Bill Nabel, Denny Paschall, Glenn Rainey, John Salvatore, Daria Lynn Scatton, Sarah Solie, Billy Sprague, Jr., James Tabeek, Beek Williams, Jennifer Hope Wills, David A. Wood, Tia Marie Zorne.
Ten years ago today the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast opened at the Palace Theatre.
A lot has changed since then: audiences, ticket prices, and, of course, the shows (well, except for The Phantom of the Opera). With all of these differences, a new theater (the show moved to the Lunt-Fontanne in 1999), and a theatrical landscape that includes two other Disney stage musicals, how does Beauty and the Beast hold up after a decade?
Not too badly, it would appear.
Yes, there's a certain freshness missing from the proceedings, but that's common to most long-running musicals; few look as good years after opening as they did when they first premiered. This show is no exception: Stanley A. Meyer's storybook sets are attractive but old-fashioned, and Natasha Katz's lighting is fine if occasionally busy, though Ann Hould-Ward's Tony-winning costumes, if less amazing than they once seemed, remain something to behold.
What saves Beauty and the Beast, even ten years on, is the strength of its material. The 1991 film, on which the stage musical is based, was the first full-length animated feature to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and not without reason. In its story, score (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman), and its technical aspects, the film ranked then (and ranks today) as one of Disney's finest - funny, moving, and with terrific performances across the board.
When the stage production premiered, it met with a fair amount of criticism, much of it not unjustified. Is a major artistic boundary not crossed - or violated - when an animated film is translated directly to the stage? Perhaps, but that has never been the Beauty and the Beast that made it to Broadway and, subsequently, to stages all over the world.
In adapting the film to the stage, Linda Woolverton (also one of the film's writers) instituted a number of key changes: Just about every character was given more depth (the Beast is more threatening and sympathetic; Belle, the beauty of the title who strays into his clutches, is more determined and headstrong), and, perhaps most importantly, the story's panoply of talking knick-knacks were no longer servants who had been enchanted into teapots, armoires, clocks, and so on as the result of an enchantress's spell - now, they were gradually becoming these things.
That distinction is crucial - in making it, Woolverton made the stage Beauty and the Beast truly about people facing difficult choices and uncertain consequences. That makes this show considerably different from the subsequent Disney stage ventures The Lion King, which is mostly about sets, costumes, and Julie Taymor, and Aida, which is about... well, who knows? Woolverton's commitment to re-spinning the familiar story about one man's loss of humanity into a deeply human tale is what has always made the stage Beauty and the Beast work.
Of course, there are still some missteps: Gaston, intent on marrying Belle whether she wants it or not, is still something of a cardboard villain, and a couple of the physical humor and dance sequences don't come to life in the ways director Robert Jess Roth, fight director Rick Sordelet, and choreographer Matt West likely intended. But even so, none of these things have ever been able to completely smother all the elements in the show that work, and work well.
That's mostly due to the score: the songs held over from the film's Oscar-winning score - the panoramic opening, "Belle," and the simple but classically beautiful title song - remain great, but a couple of the later additions (which Menken wrote with Tim Rice), such as Belle's dramatic "Home" and the Beast's pained "If I Can't Love Her," are every bit their equals. (The big first act vaudeville number, "Be Our Guest," is, as onscreen, little more than a costume and dance parade, but its glitz, conviction, and that infectious Menken melody won't let it do anything but stop the show.)
As for the current cast, if not the best group I've seen, they're certainly solid. Steve Blanchard (late of Johnny Guitar) makes his Beast contemporary and introverted, revealing his love, rage, and other feelings only bit by bit; it's an intriguing portrayal, though it takes a while to pay off. Grant Norman is almost ideally cast as Gaston, as is Aldrin Gonzalez as his lackey Lefou, but neither can quite overcome the roles' inherent difficulties. Alma Cuervo is fine as the warmly maternal Mrs. Potts and Jeff Brooks makes the most the tightly-wound Cogsworth, though David deVries as Lumiere and Pam Klinger as Babette are almost too much in their already over-the-top roles.
As for Christy Carlson Romano, it's nice to have her back on Broadway (she was Mary Phagan in Jason Robert Brown's Parade), but while she brings an appealing modern innocence to Belle, her tendency toward indication in her singing (frequently with exaggerated hand gestures) quickly becomes distracting. Her singing is fine, however, and she acquits herself nicely in the book scenes.
After all these years much of the show is still enormously effective and, dare I say it, enchanting. It's still possible to get swept away in the carefully developing love story, laugh (or at least crack a smile) at the jokes, and even experience an occasional chill up the spine. If Beauty and the Beast has never been revelatory theatre, it's always been solid family entertainment, and it remains so today.