Beauty and the Beast

Last night I went to see Beauty and the Beast in San Francisco. It was interesting, because I hadn’t seen the Disney movie.

WHAT‽

Okay, usual explanation. When growing up I had a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which are an older and much darker set of stories than the cheerful Disney ones. I like original (or composite) Disney movies, like Lion King, but the fairy tale remakes I avoided…too saccharine for me even as a kid.

So, Beauty and the Beast. I’m glad to have seen it, and I’m glad I went last night, but I wasn’t missing much and it wasn’t an amazing, standout musical. I wasn’t missing anything by not having seen it.

Characters

The Beast was probably the most realistic character, writing-wise. He’s (correctly) not in love at the end of the first act, and then changéd in the second. He’s a real kid, but I guess when you have no parents, a houseful of servants, and the time and ability to do whatever the heck you want, you would become/stay pretty childish. Also, I forgot that just as his household becomes more and more inanimate, he’s becoming more and more animal. As far as the actor went, he was fine, a pretty good singer and a good character (even including little whimpers when he’s hurt, though I guess that’s probably in the movie). However, we had the understudy, so this isn’t necessarily true about the rest of the production.

Gaston was probably my favorite. He’s basically the same character as Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog. And he was probably the best singer out of the entire cast. There’s not too much to say about him, but he was amusing nearly every time he came on stage.

I really wanted to like Belle. I really did. She gets books, and she has much more of a mind of her own than other princess characters. But she still is way too willing to forgive the Beast, too quickly at the very least. IMO. I think this is at least in part due to the story being condensed into two and a half hours (not a short play as it was), and from being adapted from a kids’ movie where it doesn’t matter as much. The actor was perfectly good, and a perfectly good singer, but not extraordinary.

Lefou got annoying after his second or third entrance. My friend said he was very straight-from-the-movie, so she knew when it was coming and it wasn’t as bad, but mostly it was silly. The servants were actually pretty good, but they’re pretty one-dimensional anyway. I think someone could (and probably has) written a good Rosencrantz-And-Guildenstern-Are-Dead-style story about the servants, and for that reason I liked “Human Again” a lot, because it hinted at that story.

This Production

So again, I don’t really have a basis for comparison, but I’ll try to point out some of the specifics that might vary from show to show.

First off, apparently two songs were removed, one of them being “Odd”. Of course, I wouldn’t know, but that’s that. There didn’t seem to be any odd gaps.

The timing was a little off some times…two or three times, a dark scene would end, and the next song would start right away, with Belle all happy again.

Transitions from place to place were pretty good, particularly coming back from the woods into the Beast’s castle. Very quick and smooth, in a way that those who’ve tried to stage a play would appreciate. The actual places, though, weren’t so great—the library in particular was disappointing. I really wanted it to feel like a place full of books; instead, there were minimal props on stage (fine), and a sort of ring of flying books framing the stage. Not shelves! A couple of the flying books were open too, which felt out-of-place. However, I shouldn’t be so harsh because we were way up in the balcony. There may have been more set pieces we just couldn’t see from our angle.

Choreography: Pretty darn good, the specialties being “Be Our Guest” (of course), and (surprisingly) the bar scene (“Gaston”). They did a great dance with clinking mugs and general revelry—nothing that impressive, but still very good. Reminded me of Fiddler on the Roof.

Again, the singers were good but not phenomenal. The orchestra was quite good, though, and a few songs I really liked. But only a few…most of them are pretty bland. And for some reason I just really loathe that “Beauty and the Beast” song…way too syrupy sweet and sticky for me.

Costumes: For a stage production, they did a very good job on the servants, but I think I still would have liked the animated version better. Same for the Beast: he had horns and shaggy hair and all, but still felt like a man, whereas in the cartoon he’s clearly an animal-thing. Sort of like Klingons vs. Wookiees.

But the wolves in the woods were awesome.

Random Thoughts

  • I liked “Bonjour/Belle”, “Human Again”, and some of the Beast’s short snippets best. But the rest of the songs were sort of blah.
  • “Kill the Beast” was a lot like “March of the Witch-Hunters” from Wicked. And “Bonjour/Belle” had the same rhythm as “And I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods.
  • Belle’s “Change In Me” song, while not particularly amazing, had one very well held “And I—”. But both me and my friend jumped to “—will always love you!” It was definitely the same note, and similar orchestration.
  • Having just been in the south of France, it was fun to see all the provençal coloring (mainly lots of blues and yellows).
  • Parody time! Good Morning Internet.

If you’re going to go to one musical this summer, it should not be Beauty and the Beast. Go see Wicked or something instead. It’s not like the Lion King where the musical is a big change from the movie—this is just straight-up Disney. Gaston was awesome, the wolves were awesome, but all in all it was pretty much just would you’d expect.

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