This is a two part review. One covers the specifics of the touring production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (at the Orpheum running until October 21st, tickets here), and the other covering the very dark culture behind it (as noted by the very pretentious title.
Part 1: The Standard Review
Beauty and the Beast is a terribly standard musical. I don’t have much to say about it, and I’m setting aside most (most) of my cynical jokiness for this one. The choice to see it boils down to what you thought about the movie; if you love the movie, you’ll probably like the musical. If you hate the movie, I would stay away from it. And this may have been perfectly illustrated by the audience. The laughter was very one-sided, as one side laughed way more than the other from my perch up in the balcony. Funnily, my section, the quiet and immovable one, was made up of mostly teenagers. Maybe they had already grown tired of the movie?
There’s something to be said though about being able to pause, rewind, skip, and turn on subtitles; especially for a show seemingly designed for families (though with plenty of sexual humor, and of course, you know, the objectification and sexualization of Belle. But that’s part 2.) If you or your children can’t sit still very well, I would recommend sticking with the movie. The musical felt very long, the accents were sloppy and sometimes made me wish there were subtitles, and it would’ve been nice to be able to pause it and come back to it later. Someday. Eventually. Maybe. Potentially. Possibly. (What I’m trying to say is not unless I am forced to.)
It was good because it was a standard musical, and also bad because of it. It felt like a perfectly fine example of a Broadway musical, for better or worse. The acting was fine, the singing was fine, the choreography was fine, the lighting and set and all of the rest were fine, with a few standout moments in each. There were no real risks taken. No point for me to see it unless I wanted to see a Disney film recreated on stage. If I had to pick, I’d take the movie, if I absolutely had to choose. But it wasn’t bad, at least at what it set out to do. It transitioned the story to the stage pretty effortlessly. I could’ve done without the extremes they took to make the characters feel cartoony (I’m looking at you La Fou), and to emulate the storybook and animated looks, but other people may really love those things about it. It was also really violent. And their slapstick violent comedy attempt was bad.
The Beast (Darick Pead) did sound like a cross between Liam Neeson and Nicholas Cage though. I laughed a lot at that.
Imagine Maurice (Belle’s dad) or Gaston calling the Beast up and saying this.
The most appealing parts were the orchestra and transitions between scenes. The orchestra, though only made up of 6 or 7 musicians, created such a bold and immersive sound deserving of the words bold and immersive. They created the sound of a full orchestra, though they had space to spare down in the darkness of the pit.
The transitions were brilliant. The timing and thought to get them to that level of polish must have been astounding. Each scene flowed effortlessly into the next, with no noticeable hiccups from the actors, set, or lighting. It made the musical feel shorter than it was, but I found myself looking forward to how they’d do the transitions, more so than the plot, or singing, or whatever I was supposed to care about. Whatever that was. whatever.
But, onto the bad things. The cultural stuff. These problems aren’t really any fault of the musical, and it shouldn’t be judged because it chose to stick close to Disney’s original retelling of the story. Take this more of a criticism of the story and culture surrounding it, as opposed to directly related to the musical.
Part 2: The Beast WIthin Beauty (translated out of pretention, our culture hides bad things.)
(At 0:53) “Look, girls buy the tickets, but the guys love it, because it’s funny, and because there’s beautiful women in it, and I think the guys are surprised, actually.” – Rob Roth, director of Beauty and the Beast
Wow, you even put the audience into gender roles! Fantastic! I don’t feel other-ed at all!
Disney movies have a habit of teetering between innocence and horror. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle voluntarily elects to stay forever with someone who is physically and verbally aggressive towards her, and ‘learns to love him and sees the error in her ways.’ After dreaming of seeing the world with her father, she settles to stay at a castle for the rest of however long. With this violent beast, who once loved becomes ‘beautiful,’ after he was terrible to her.
1 what the [redacted].
Gaston sexualizes Belle constantly, and though portrayed as this shallow, stereotypical man who should be laughed at, along with the constantly objectified women in the show (villagers and Babette particularly), there was just so much…sexualization, and dreams of attention from men. Babette was constantly pushed aside from Lumiere; when they would connect, it would be sexually. Very clearly, as her revealing costume…revealed. Setting a great example for the little girls showing up with dolls and wearing dresses, Disney! As well as the men, with the idea of ‘manning up’ so prevalent in our society, where the hottest guy in town is terribly hairy, muscular, drinks, etc.
2 what the [redacted’s].
And now, reading the synopsis of one of the original versions of the story, it makes Disney’s rendition look even worse. InGabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original work, “The Beast was a prince who lost his father at a young age, and whose mother had to wage war to defend his kingdom. The queen left him in care of an evil fairy, who tried to seduce him when he became an adult; when he refused, she transformed him into a beast.” (source) I mean, I guess I get the attraction to simplicity for a children’s story, but it’s not like the violence in Disney’s version is very…simple. And Wikipedia’s (oh dear, my teachers may be very unhappy with me about using that) synopsis of Beaumont’s adaptation goes on to say how the Beast treated her well, and asked her to marry her every night.
Did they make the Beast ‘evil’ to shift the focus onto his character development, as opposed to Belle’s? To make the audience feel more attached to Belle? Is a story of violence easier to tell than a story of a monster being friend zoned?
No matter what, Disney’s adaptation of the plot seems basic, simple, and destructive as opposed to the preceding versions.
3 what the [cut this out already man].
Thinking about this now makes me feel particularly awful. So many people love the story and the idea of being a Disney princess. Is abusiveness really what I should notice? Am I feeding into the problem?
I think it’s insane. I hate knowing that I saw so many children wearing the get up of a Disney princess, being absorbed into this world of ‘innocence,’ of magic, of fantasy, ‘the stuff of dreams.’ And harkening back to Mamma Mia, why is it that a strong, independent woman always gives up to a relationship they didn’t think they wanted , especially in musicals? I can’t remember a Broadway musical I’ve seen that hasn’t involved some kind of relationship, particularly the kind noted above.
The whole situation p***** me off. Romance is an easy subplot, or main plot, as is the case in a lot of young adult fiction. But why does it seem to always be handled so carelessly? Why do so many things about a person have to change, in order for the perfect romance to happen? Why can’t there be an interesting plot about someone who wants to be single in popular culture?
Of course, all of those things noted are handled incredibly well in all sorts of mediums and topics, assuredly. But mainstream popular culture seems fixated on everyone getting into the perfect, dangerous, and sexy relationship, changing because it was needed for it to happen. So careless about their depictions, and ignorant of their influence, no wonder abuse of all sorts, gender roles, perfectionism, and all that bad stuff are obscured under the positives; Beauty and the Beast being an excellent example of that, where abuse stares the protagonist in the face on a regular basis, but it never becomes the main point. And it is never the subject of the photos in the press kit. Surprise!
This was a pain to write, and Beauty and the Beast a pain to watch. I wish that topics could be confronted in popular culture, as opposed to darted around. And confronting those terrors with a musical some may find some kind of solace in is difficult. I don’t believe the production should be able to live as innocently as it does; I sense no scandal, no danger, no dissenting voice aside from the typical anti-Disney sentiments. And that is probably partially the result of SEO burying, or wanting to live comfortably without confronting the dark side of the arts.
As I said before, if you liked the movie, you’ll probably like the musical, and vice versa. But if you see and spend money on the musical, take these thoughts into account. What it represents, what impressions it leaves, and maybe most importantly, what is it hiding?