The show’s run at the CCP Main Theater has been extended until Feb. 1. After debuting in Istanbul in October, “Beauty and the Beast” made its way to Abu Dhabi, Thessaloniki, Trieste and Milan before coming to Manila.
‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’: The magic of the movie comes alive onstage
Comparisons are inevitable when one watches the musical theater version of a favorite film and vice-versa. And while it’s been almost 25 years since the 1991 Disney hit movie “Beauty and the Beast” entrenched itself in the hearts and minds of children and the young at heart everywhere, its influence over said audience when they trooped to the Cultural Center of the Philippines this weekend to watch the Broadway version that is now touring Asia is still palpable.
At the same time, this particular stage version holds its own illustrious pedigree—unsurprising, since its creative team is composed of practically the same talents who redefined “cartoon movies” with their grander, more adult-version of this “tale as old as time”: composer Alan Menken, lyricist Howard Ashman and screenwriter Linda Woolverton. (Tim Rice would come onboard as co-lyricist for the stage musical when Ashman died in 1991.)
While staying fairly close to its cinematic forebear, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” succeeds in establishing its own identity. It is said to be the ninth-longest-running musical production in Broadway history, with more than 5,000 performances in 13 years, from 1994 to 2007.
Perhaps what made “Beauty and the Beast” different from its predecessors was that it was one of the few movie musicals to make the transition to the stage because of the film’s immense popularity. It was the other way around for the many others that had come before it—“The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady,” “Camelot,” etc., which made their mark on Broadway and/or the West End first before enjoying a film incarnation.
“Beauty and the Beast” the film paved the way for other film-to-stage productions such as “The Lion King,” “Tarzan,” “Footloose” and “Ghost,” to name a few.
Fidelity is one of the things the theater audience can expect in watching this production. The classic story is basically preserved: A pretty young lass, subtly ostracized by her village for her smarts, is imprisoned in a castle by a hideous creature that is a cross between a lion and a man. The Beast, as he is called, is actually a handsome, if spoiled, prince cursed by a fairy he had once mistreated. Only “true love” can break the spell and restore the Beast and his entourage of attendants, now turned into living furniture, back to human form.
It is a tall order: The temperamental, narcissistic Beast has to learn to love someone, and the girl in turn has to be compassionate and insightful enough to see through his defenses and love him back.
Everyone knows how the story ends, and the reward for the theater viewer is in how the stage adaptation recaptures the magic of the animated film. This musical’s production design (credited to Stan Meyer) and the production values overall are first-rate. A humble village that should have been dull by all standards is awash in rainbow colors, their town lasses adorned in cartoon-tailored glitz and glam. The dark and dreary castle is one black cavernous habitation one minute, and in the next a golden-hued dance hall animated by singing kitchenware.
Director Robert Roth plays very well the contrast between light and darkness, hope and despair; the cheery town peopled by bumbling idiots and the forbidden lair of the Beast are worlds apart. Matt West’s choreography, which places most of the numbers in the village, helps highlight the differences in the tone and mood of the two locations.
And yet Roth knows how to play it subtle when he has to. In a condemned world where it is up to a flirtatious candelabra (Hassan Robati), a trusty clock (James May) and a motherly pot (Emily Matheson) to provide the lightness and the humor, nothing is as poignant as a rose seemingly forever suspended in time.
Acting as the fairy’s hourglass, the wilting of the magical flower’s last petal signals that the time is up for the Beast, and no more chances will be given for the spell to be broken. No wonder the Beast is an agitated, temperamental creature. Like the movie Beast, Darick Pead plays it vicious and angry one minute, hesitant and uncertain the next. But what makes his interpretation different from the movie’s is that his Beast is still a little boy inside. A selfish, socially impaired brat, but one who is actually afraid that his cause is lost.
And that is the vulnerability that Belle, played with sparkle and wit by Hilary Maiberger, reaches out to and connects with. The movie portrayed Belle and the Beast as equals; in this stage version, it is clear that the lady is the one who is emotionally stronger and wiser in the ways of the world.
The emotionality and pathos emerge only during the Beast’s final sacrifice when Gaston, played engagingly by Adam Dietlein, storms the castle. The actor got a wide share of the applause with his humorously chauvinistic rendition of the main villain, if Gaston could be called that.
Having said that, none of the characters—except perhaps in that one scene when Belle and the Beast finally bond—transcend their cartoonish characterizations. Even when he turns dark, Gaston just appears as the jealous suitor, and not a primal force of prejudice and hatred that can threaten the Beast.
A few of the dramatic nuances are also lost, perhaps unintentionally, during the scene changes. The mist and other elemental harbingers of nature do make for forbidding sentries that ward out the intruders. However, they can literally get in the way of the viewer’s sight during the more dramatic events. Few cases in point: the casting of the spell on the prince or Gaston’s mortal wounding of the Beast. There is no time for the proper emotion—fear, concern, awe—to sink in as the action sometimes moves far too speedily.
Still, all’s well that ends well. The magic in the Manila production of “Beauty and the Beast” prevails from start to finish. And for an audience weaned on the movie, that may be enough.
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” in Manila is presented by Disney Theatrical Productions, NETworks, Broadway Entertainment Group, MKFAE and Ovation Productions, which is producing a musical show for the first time in its 35 years in business. The show’s run, at the CCP Main Theater, has been extended until Feb. 1. Visit ticketworld.com.ph.