I had the pleasure of accompanying my daughter to see the musical production of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast at Heinz Hall, a NETworks presentation and part of the PNC Broadway Across America series.
The story is one most of us are familiar with. A selfish prince and his castle are put under a spell until he can understand love and be loved in return. Then we meet Belle, an intelligent young woman with a thirst for knowledge and live outside her “provincial town,” and her inventor father.
When Belle discovers that her father had gotten lost on his way to an inventor’s fair and was being held captive by the selfish prince, now a Beast as an outward representation of his narcissistic ways. Belle offers to stay in her father’s place, and the Beast and all of the castle inhabitants are surprised by her generous action and cautiously optimistic that she may be the one to break the spell.
Meanwhile, back in the “provincial town,” Gaston, the town’s own male chauvinist, had set his sights on Belle and is determined to have her as his wife. When Belle’s father, Maurice, returns to the village without Belle, and starts telling the story of the Beast that is holding her, Gaston hatches a plan with have Maurice committed to an asylum, hoping this will convince Belle to marry him if he promises to save Maurice.
Belle finds out that her father is in trouble, and returns to the village to help him. When she finds out about Gaston’s plan, she also tells about the Beast. Gaston uses this information to incite the villagers to attack the Beast at his castle. During the fight, Gaston stabs the Beast and while the Beast is lying there dying, Belle professes her love for him. This breaks the spell, the Beast is transformed back into a prince, and the rest of the castle inhabitants are transformed back into their human selves. Like all good love stories, this one ends with a wedding and dancing.
This story has always been a favorite of mine, because it speaks to female empowerment, with Belle’s refusal of Gaston’s marriage proposal and her desire for “more than this provincial life.” Also, the message behind the spell and how your actions are more important than your physical appearance, and treating others with kindness and love is always a good idea – this is a message that seems to get lost more and more, and I love reminders of this.
Okay. So that’s the story, one that is so well known that it’s easy to follow along with. But what makes the presentation really stand out is the way they portrayed the story. The set design was beautiful, and there’s a large part of me that wishes I could have someone paint it on my office wall. The costumes were fun and fairly true to the period in which the story is set.
One of my favorite parts of the movie version of Beauty and The Beast has always been the Be Our Guest song, with the singing and dancing plates and linens, and I was very curious to see how this would be represented in a stage production. With some very clever costumes and props, this number was easily one of my favorite of the show. Belle’s opening song, in the village, as also very well done. The village shops were done in movable units that were rearranged on stage during different parts of the song.
Coming from someone who is not terribly coordinated, I am always amazed at the precision with which dancers can move about the stage, pushing props and set pieces without crashing into each other. This precision was perfectly demonstrated during the Gaston’s song in the village pub, where the villagers performed a very intricately choreographed dance while tapping their mugs together. To be honest, it reminded me of the precision of the Rockettes dancing, and I was enthralled.
My 8 year old daughter accompanied me to the performance and when I asked her about the show on the way home, her first comment was about the “guy who had to stay still for so long.” During the scenes at the castle. the set pieces were moved around by cast members dressed as gargoyles. When the pieces were in position, they moved into a statue formation and stayed still until the scene was over and it was time to move the pieces again. I, too, was impressed by their ability to be so still and, well, statuesque, for several minutes at a time.
Overall, I thought it was a great production. The set design, the costumes, the choreography, the casting, the orchestra – it was all fantastic. Even though it is a popular children’s story, there was enough humor aimed at adults to keep the entire audience engaged and entertained. And Heinz Hall is such a beautiful venue for a musical production. I’m looking forward to seeing other productions from The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust at their various venues in our great city.