I remember Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the movie musical fondly.
This was the first time my sister and I were entrusted to travel to Center City with my cousin Leaky. We went to the movies, ate at the gallery, and took the EL with no adult supervision.
Watching the movie fueled my 18 year old self and cultivated my love of all things Disney. Here was a protagonist like me (except the 18 inch waist). Belle found comfort in the pages of a book, was on the lookout for adventure, and could sing (except the singing again).
Rewind to last Thursday. The PreTeen and I were treated to a showing of Beauty and The Beast the Musical at the Academy of Music. I enjoyed this new tradition, seeing a show the night before Thanksgiving. The streets were clear, the theater was full of young girls dressed like Belle in her yellow dinner dress, and the production was professional.
I couldn’t help but look at this beloved musical from my cynical forty year old eyes.
The show opens with the Prince being a tool against a beggar woman. She does offer a crappy rose in exchange for a stay in his castle, so I can see how the Prince would turn that away, but where was his parents? Or any adult to correct his behavior? The prince is transformed into a frightening beast along with all of the staff in the castle.
When the staff was enchanted, didn’t anyone question what happened to them? Wasn’t there a person in the pub looking for Lumiere Jones and the five dollars he borrowed?
Next we are introduced to life in a small provincial French town. Belle is considered odd because she’s walking around reading a book. If this was 2013 rather than whatever period the musical is supposed to take place, it would be totally acceptable for Belle to have her nose plastered to a mobile device. Her love for the written word has the town people gossiping about Belle and writing her off as an oddball.
While Belle is enjoying her book, Gaston decides that Belle must be his wife. He then embarks in a series of conduct that is borderline harassment. No, it is harassment. Again in 2013 Belle would be granted a restraining order against this oaf.
After a verbal back and forth Gaston and his abused sidekick Lefou make fun of Belle’s father. This set Belle off and she declares her father isn’t crazy but a brilliant man. Maurice, Belle’s dad then pulls up on a bike that also chops wood when pedaled. Why anyone would need this technology is beyond me but Maurice and Belle are convinced that this contraption will be their ticket out of this Podunk town.
Maurice leaves and gets lost in the woods. Some wolves attack him and he finds himself at the castle. Lumiere lets him in, prepared to welcome this stranger, probably to break up the boredom of life as a candlestick. Cogsworth, the clock, gets his britches in a bunch and wants Maurice to leave. Mrs. Potts, a teapot, and her child, Chip serve tea to a cold and frightened Maurice. The Beast then comes and scares the caca out of poor Maurice. In Cogsworth defense, he did tell the rest of the servants to bid Maurice deuces.
As Maurice is being locked in a dungeon, Gaston has decided that despite the rebuffs of Belle he’s still going to make her his wife. Some tarts in the town are upset, but Gaston promises that nothing will change with his gallivanting. Gaston sends Lefou to the forest to get the largest Buck he can find for this wedding feast. Despite Lefou’s claims that the forest is scary, he still scurries off.
Gaston decides again to strong arm Belle into marriage and once again Belle rebuffs him. Undeterred, Gaston continues to plot how to make Belle his wife. Lefou comes back from the forest with a red scarf that Belle gave to Maurice. This time Belle bullies Lefou into taking her into the forest to see if she can track down her dad. Why Belle decides to become a detective is beyond me. My guess is that she doesn’t trust the officers in town since they continue to let Gaston harass her daily.
Belle wonders into the castle (how have the Townsfolk not discovered this place yet? Belle found it with little to no effort). She finds Maurice locked in a cage in the dungeon, his hands cold and he’s sick. The Beast allows Belle to take Maurice’s place and rips the two apart as they say goodbye. The staff convinces the Beast to let Belle stay in a room. The Beast orders Belle to dinner and since Belle lost all she cares about, she tells the Beast she has no effs to give and she won’t join him for dinner.
Lefou sings a ditty to Gaston’s greatness (this number was quite the showstopper!) Maurice can find his way back to town, but not to the fair that is supposed to put his brilliant mind on the map? Maurice tries to tell everyone about the Beast but the town disses then dismisses him. Gaston, ever the schemer, concocts a plan to get Belle to marry Gaston.
Belle realizes she hasn’t eaten since the visiting the baker earlier that day and after a tete- a- tete with the wardrobe, she wonders to the kitchen to scare up some vittles.
Lumiere, doing his best NOT to be Jerry Orbach, and failing, sings Be Our Guest to Belle in what should be an act ending number. I know the dancing silverware and other enchanted cartoon items are difficult to duplicate on the stage, but having the carpet from Aladdin do a bunch of flips was weird. The number felt forced, tired, and stale. Lumiere and Cogsworth offer to give Belle a tour and she heads to the West Wing which she was forbidden to enter. Of course she enters and messes with the rose from the beggar woman. Beast, knowing that this rose is his last link to a normal life flips the eff out and scares Belle. Belle channels her inner Sweet Brown
The Beast sings some song about Belle’s love and we cut to intermission.
Act Two begins with Belle suddenly having no sense of direction and wolves attacking her. Feeling bad that he scared her, the Beast ventures in to the forest to find Belle. He saves Belle, but the wolves attack him. Rather than take this as her opportunity to get out of Dodge, she takes the Beast back to the castle and cleans his wounds. Then Belle APOLOGIZES for refusing to eat dinner with the Beast and asks if she can have a second chance. Hold the phone. BELLE was taken as a hostage. BELLE was yelled at (although I understand since she was messing with the rose) by the Beast. BELLE was almost hit by the Beast. What in domestic violence hell?
The Beast gets advice on how to woo Belle and takes her to the library. Belles goes bat caca crazy and finds a book about King Arthur. She offers to let the Beast read it first and he confesses that he was one of the Children Left Behind. Belle reads the story to him and the staff gets excited because Belle may be the one.
Meanwhile, Gaston and Lefou have bribed a doctor to declare Maurice insane. Gaston thinks that his saving Maurice from the insane asylum will get Belle to marry him. If anyone needs to see the doctor, I’d say Belle was the obvious candidate.
Belle and the Beast go to dinner and Mrs. Potts sings Beauty and the Beast. Stage Mrs. Potts, Angela Lansbury you are not.
The Beast has been a tool the whole show and is suddenly shy around Belle. He SHOULD be trying to go for a kiss, but he lets Belle leave to see her father (random comment from The PreTeen: And boom goes the dynamite). The servants once again enable the Beast’s selfishness. They should have dug in his behind. If not for his initial selfishness, none of the staff would be turning into objects.
Belle gets back just in time to prevent Maurice from going to the asylum. Gaston pooh poohs Belle until she shows him the magic mirror and he sees the Beast is real. Taking a page from Fox News, Gaston whips the crowd into a frenzy and they storm off to the castle.
Gaston finds the Beast and commences to whipping his butt. The Beast, heartbroken over Belle, takes the beating. Belle, once again using her selective navigation, rushes in to stop them. Gaston makes like he wants to hit Belle, but the Beast snaps out of his despair. The stage goes dark as the Beast kills Gaston.
Belle, declares her love to the dying Beast and he is transformed back into a human. Belle, despite living with the threat of being attacked daily by Gaston, living in a castle where the furniture talks, being attacked by wolves, and being held captive by the Beast becomes afraid of his human form.
The ending is rote:
The household items become human. Belle marries the Beast, and a reprise of Beauty and the Beast is sang.
I sincerely hope that once things settle after the wedding, Belle at the least TALKS to someone at the asylum. She has some deep issues.