This was supposed to have been the “project” that I finished last week, except life happened (which led me to drink considerable amounts of alcohol every day after my shift at work – but we can talk about my descent into stress-triggered alcoholism some other time – and caused my immune system to crash). Yes, I’m making excuses for my bad creative/blogging habits. I’m trying not to feel too guilty about it, otherwise I might abandon this blog completely. But this is here now, and I’m planning to post another project by the end of the week. Probably not a writing thing, though.
I basically shat bricks when I found out that a touring production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was coming to the Philippines, because this is my favorite animated fairy tale EVER. Why wouldn’t it be? Belle is basically my avatar.
Immense love for books? CHECK.
Kooky, near-genius father? CHECK.
Mild discomfort over being generally considered attractive but weird at the same time? YOU BETCHA.
Having wanted to see the stage version since I was a child, and having missed the local production back in 2005, I was determined to see this musical. So I snagged tickets for TWO different showings: one near the beginning of its run, and one midway through it.
This review is focused on the first time I saw it, on what seems to be their very first matinee performance.
The TL;DR version is this: Parts of it felt disjointed (probably because it’s different from the original production – you can check out excerpts on YouTube – and the cast was still trying to get its bearings), but it was still tons of fun.
Want more of the specifics? See them after the jump.
What do I think about the plot and the treatment?
Given that everyone and their great grandmothers know the plot of the Disney version of “Beauty and the Beast” (a girl leaves home and finds happiness by being true to herself/a cursed prince learns to care for others), I’m inclined to not discuss it and the overall story at all. However, the very nature of this production may require us to provide you with a little bit more establishment – especially if you’re pretty attached to the animated movie. After all, this is a tour version of a musical adaptation of a Disney take on a fairytale.
So if you’re interested in seeing the difference between the Disney take and the original fairytale, you’ll be glad to know that someone already did that. And if you want a list of the differences between the Disney film and its stage musical version, you can check out this Wikipedia page.
Now that you have some solid background on these reinterpretations, I can discuss how the little tweaks in the “tour” production have affected the way the story flowed and the way the character relationships came off.
Minor issues with how Belle is presented
Let’s start with the removal of the song “No Matter What“, which serves to underscore Belle’s relationship with her father – in which they express their affection for each other in the face of being mildly ostracized by the village. It was replaced with a conversation focused on how Maurice felt a change in himself when he met his daughter’s mother.
Of course, considering the fact that later on in the musical you’ll hear the song “A Change In Me” (not part of the original; only added in 1998 for Toni Braxton), I suppose they felt that it’s a perfectly logical route for this production. I’m sure other people agree with them, too. But the decision to include a short discussion referencing romantic feelings in this father-daughter moment has colored the meaning of “A Change”. Instead of it feeling like a song about growing up, it felt like a song about seeing the world through a lens of love. And that in turn made it seem like Belle’s entire arc is about finding someone who will love her for who she is, and who she can love in return.
It’s probably not their intention, but that’s how it came off to me. If that’s how it came off to me, then it’s probably how it came off to some other people too. I’m hoping that said other people aren’t big fans of Belle as she is in the movie, who’s far more interested in discovering a much bigger world than the one she’s come to know.
At this point, I’d like to concede that Belle in the original Broadway musical doesn’t seem to be as interested in adventure as she is in having somewhere she could be herself. “No Matter” establishes that she only ever feels at home with her father. “Home” (sung after The Beast takes Belle to her room in the castle) reinforces the previous sentiment, as she allows herself to feel like she can only be herself with herself. “A Change” in this version shows an evolution in her perspective with regards to what having a home means, and the “End Duet (Home/If I Can’t Love Her Reprise)” number near the end more clearly expresses her new attitudes towards “belonging” (i.e. it’s a give and take situation).
The original musical version tells a better story, in my opinion.
Minor issues with how the Beast is presented
Let’s make one thing clear: I have no complaints whatsoever over the fact that the Beast is a total dork in the musical because – let’s face it – he’s a total dork in the movie too.
No, the fact that they highlighted his insecurities and his tendency to be “spoiled, selfish, and unkind” wasn’t my issue (although my significant other was grumbling about him being “the least princely prince” he has ever seen). My problem, and I realize that this is a petty, nitpicky problem to have, is that the actor playing the Beast pitched his voice pretty high early on. There isn’t enough gravel in his voice at the beginning to make him intimidating at first, so when he chased Belle out of the West Wing it felt less like an “Oh shit, she’s done for” moment and more like a “He’s like a whiny teenager telling his mom to get out of his room and stop touching his computer” situation.
It doesn’t help that, at least to my ears, Belle has a nice “rounded” voice. It made it seem like she’s older than the Beast. As such, the blossoming romance between them rang a little false. It felt more like a mother and son or older sister/younger brother dynamic rather than a man and woman falling in love.
Some people may not have even noticed this; unfortunately, I was raised in an environment where voice quality is an essential part of character (can anyone else honestly imagine Johnny Bravo with a higher voice?). So unfortunately, this was a bit of a miss for me even if I did love how this actor handled the comedy bits.
Other notes, good and bad
There were other things which I think fell short, but I found them forgivable because the size of this company would have given them serious limitations. One particular change in the structure which felt like a loose end to me was the removal of the “furniture fight back” sequence, in which the mob was taken out by Lumiere and company.
Again, I understand that the small cast would have made this tricky to handle (especially when you’re supposed to be preparing for the final scene with everybody in it). But now you have this niggling question of what happened to the mob after Gaston left them to loot the castle. Of course we KNOW what happens – it’s in the movie – but the musical is supposed to be able to stand on its own despite being an adaptation of the film. At least replace it with something like one of the villagers seeing Gaston literally backstab the Beast, so the villain would have lost the mob’s support. Give us something to resolve that little nugget.
The energy of the cast seemed to also be slightly low in the first act, but I’m chalking that up to this being their first matinee show. I’m assuming that they haven’t actually gotten into a groove yet, and I’m hoping this will be rectified by Friday (when I watch it again – this time with my sister).
There were, of course, highlights to this show. “Be Our Guest” will always be a showstopper. The “Gaston” number was fun, and Gaston himself was so committed to the character that I almost broke out in hives when he sang “Me“. And despite my misgivings about the Beast’s voice, I still found him adorkable enough to hug – and his take on “If I Can’t Love Her” made me cry. Furthermore, the set changes and the use of puppets were pretty darn inspired.
All in all, this is a fun version of the film I have loved since I was about eight years old.
Would I read the book version?
Just tell me where to find those books and I will read the shit out of them.
Want to watch this production of “Beauty and the Beast”? It’s playing at the CCP here in Manila until February 1! Buy your tickets via TicketWorld, and let me know your thoughts once you’ve seen it.