Last Saturday night, my six-year-old daughter Adriana and I had a date. She had been looking forward to it for quite a while, and on the day itself, just like any girl, she took her time getting dressed and even changed twice until finally deciding on her outfit. As we left the house, she excitedly waved goodbye to her dad and brothers and giggled nonstop in the car about “leaving the boys at home.”
We were off to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to catch the evening performance of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” musical. I grew up loving theater, but I had never seen this particular show during trips abroad.
Adriana was busy listing down the scenes from the movie version that she wanted to see, as well as scenes she wanted to avoid. I had seen the movie with her once or twice so my memory was refreshed.
But then I could still remember quite a lot from the time I saw the animated feature over 20 years ago.
I couldn’t recall if we already had CDs then or were still using cassette tapes, but I know I had the soundtrack, and, like any child, I listened to it day and night until I managed to memorize just about every song in the album.
As I would later discover, my efforts were not for naught, as our high school drama club staged “Beauty and the Beast” in a yearend production. Since I went to an all-girls’ school, the cast played both male and female roles. I was chosen to play Lumiere—the suave French debonair and enchanted candelabra who is the valet of the castle.
We had a great time putting up the show, but since none of us had seen the Broadway version, we were limited to what we saw in the film.
Among Disney’s classic animated films, “Beauty and the Beast” is probably among the most popular. For starters, it is based on a well-loved classic fairy tale that has been passed from one generation to another. And then there is the fact that, to date, it is one of Disney’s highest-grossing films. Since its 1991 release, gross earnings worldwide have reached $425 million.
Another reason is its status as an Academy Award-winning film for Best Musical Score by music geniuses Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.
It didn’t take long for Broadway to come knocking. It was only a matter of time before Disney would have another moneymaker. In 1994, “Beauty and the Beast: The Musical” premiered at the Palace Theater on Broadway and became an instant hit. Critics and audiences alike were won over by this timeless tale of love.
The Broadway production went on to play over 5,000 performances and is the sixth longest-running Broadway show in history.
It has 13 Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical; and over at the West End, it received the Olivier Award for Best Musical.
Fast forward to last Saturday night. Those expecting to watch a rehashed version of the film will be in for a big, amazing surprise. Yes, the musical is based on the film, but no, it is absolutely not the same thing.
When the lights dimmed and the familiar prologue began, we were treated to one special effect after another. In this show, no stone was left unturned.
There were apparitions, disappearances, sophisticated puppetry, floating characters, transformations, fog and exploding champagne bottles. Every detail was well-conceived, as even the stage hands seamlessly blended with the sets that they pushed on and off the stage.
No expenses were spared for the lavish costumes, sets and props, but my favorite is that of Chip, the teacup. I won’t spoil the surprise for you, but look out for it and see if you can figure out how they created the illusion!
Adriana and I happily and very quietly sang along to many of the familiar classics, but I noticed there were some new songs added to the repertoire.
I thought this was a good touch, as the new material further developed the characters and gave the audience a deeper insight into their feelings.
My personal favorite among the new songs is “Home.” It is a haunting tune depicting Belle’s loneliness as she struggles to come to terms with her new situation as prisoner in the palace of the Beast and her yearning to return to “where her heart is.”
A close second is the Beast’s “If I Can’t Love Her.” While watching him stomp and growl, it was easy to forget that he was once a man, and through this song we discover that we’re not the only ones who forget.
We felt the Beast’s frustration as he desperately tries to hold on to whatever is left of his humanity, despite physically appearing to have no trace of it.
But of course, there were the classic scenes and songs that had us happily tapping our feet. The one where Gaston and the townsfolk sing “Gaston,” an ode to the chauvinistic town hero, came with a fun-filled beer-clinking dance sequence.
But what is “Beauty and the Beast” without the famous romantic waltz of Belle and the Beast, as Mrs. Potts sings about a “tale as old as time”? Never had this song sounded so beautiful to me as when I saw it performed last weekend, while watching the two protagonists slowly fall in love.
I might be biased, but the star scene of the night had to be the musical extravaganza that was “Be Our Guest.” How I wish I could clap my hands and sing along to the very familiar lines of Lumiere’s dinner invitation as we watched plates, utensils and other dining accessories swirl and twirl around Belle! Who could have possibly imagined being able to see a veritable cancan in the middle of this show?
It really was a feast for the senses. The actors were spot on in capturing their characters and brilliant in performing the songs. The music and choreography were amazing.
I could go on and on, but I will end here before I give away too much. The last thing I will say is, if you are watching the evening show with a child, I don’t know what you will enjoy more—watching the scenes onstage, or the expression on your child’s face as he/she watches the transformation of the Beast toward the end.
The show ended two and a half hours later, but the magic it cast will stay with us for a long time to come!
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is presented by Disney Theatrical Productions Inc. and Ovation Productions. It runs until Jan. 25 at the CCP Main Theater, with 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. performances on Saturdays and Sundays.