by Michael Lassell
Like Mary Poppins, the character she created, P.L. Travers did not believe in explaining. She did, however, believe in self-mythologizing, leaving those intent on biographical criticism so confused in her wake that even her obituaries had the facts wrong (according to Valerie Lawson, author of Out of the Sky She Came, the definitive Travers biography).
PLT, as she was sometimes called, did not even take credit for “creating” Poppins. Instead, she insisted, the nanny with the upturned nose just came to her one day, much as she blows in on the East Wind in the opening chapter of Mary Poppins (1934). But whether Travers created the “Practically Perfect” Poppins—while convalescing from pleurisy in her Sussex, England, cottage—or merely channeled her, the world is in her debt.
A traditional fairytale first published in France in the mid-18th century, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is an enduring story of love and friendship that has been translated into hundreds of versions worldwide. When Walt Disney Pictures released the animated feature film Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 1991 with a score by composer Alan Menken and the late lyricist Howard Ashman, it was hailed as an instant classic with critics praising its “songs worthy of a Broadway musical.” The film went on to win Academy® Awards for Best Song and Best Original Score and made history as the only animated feature ever nominated for Best Picture. Given the power of the film’s story and music, the decision was made to bring Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to the Broadway stage.
Disney Theatrical Productions assembled the creative team and worked hard to combine the strengths of the beloved film with the possibilities that only live theatre can offer. Linda Woolverton adapted her Disney’s Beauty and the Beast screenplay to the stage, adding new scenes to fill out the story for the stage. The Oscar®-winning score was expanded to include several new songs by Menken and veteran lyricist Tim Rice. Beauty and the Beast opened at the Palace Theatre on April 18, 1994, played on Broadway for over 13 years (5,461 performances, finishing its run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre), ultimately becoming the eighth longest-running musical in Broadway history.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast has logged more than 15,000 performances in more than 120 cities and 21 countries such as Canada, Japan, Mexico, Ireland, South Korea, United Kingdom, Spain, Brazil and Argentina. The play has been translated into 8 languages: Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Italian.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays Denver’s Buell Theatre March 14-18. For information or tickets, contact us at 303-893-4100.
By Brendan Lemon
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, now embarked on a lavish and visually re-imagined new tour presented by NETworks, is one of best-loved of all musicals. It’s easy to understand why. Its classic story — of a beautiful village girl, Belle, who is first repelled by, then attracted to a gruff yet big-hearted Beast —is indeed, as one of the show’s numbers has it, “a tale as old as time.” The songs (music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice) are almost criminally tuneful. And the musical’s appeal crosses age barriers: truly, “Beauty” is an experience that can be enjoyed by child and adult alike.
Many of the songs – the charming “Belle,” the infectious “Something There,” and the spectacular hospitality anthem “Be Our Guest” – were written for the 1991 animated movie, which was the first – and until 2010, the only – animated film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. The movie’s status not just in cinematic history but in critical lore was cemented when the New York Times’ then-theater critic Frank Rich, called Beauty and the Beast the best musical of the year – in any format.
Disney took the cue, and soon started things rolling for the live adaptation. Several new songs, as well as the book by Linda Woolverton, were written for the stage version, which opened on Broadway at the Palace Theater on April 18, 1994, and went on to become the seventh-longest running production in Broadway history.
Rob Roth, who directed the Broadway premiere and is back at the helm for the new tour, says that the “story of the show is about seeing past the exterior of a person and into his or her heart.” He says that conveying that feeling is key to any production of “Beauty.” What’s fresh about the tour, he adds, is not just the timeless moral but a new approach to the visuals.
“So few directors have the opportunity to work on a show several years later in a new form,” Roth says. “I’m lucky that way, and I’m also lucky because I never get bored with ‘Beauty.’”
Stan Meyer, the scenic designer both for the 1994 Broadway version and for the new production, says that the former staging was, essentially, the 1991 movie made live. The latter is “a departure from that.” He explains: “We did a lot of research that involved eastern-European wood carving and gilded manuscripts. The new version is an illuminated manuscript come to life.”
Audiences will delight in the eye-popping storybook shapes and colors that Meyer and the other original-version designers (Ann Hould-Ward: costumes; Natasha Katz: lighting) have re-imagined. The production’s look, adds Meyer, “is more evocative of whimsy and very, very romantic.”
DIsney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST plays Denver, CO (Buell Theatre) March 14-18, 2012. Tickets: 303.893.4100, 800.641.1222, Groups 10+ 303.446.4892, TTY 303.893.9582