20 reasons to watch Beauty and the Beast

Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - There are many reasons to watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, not the least of which is love for a great love story. We compiled 20 reasons with good reason: The stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning Disney animated film is now on its 20th year and touring the world for the first time. The international production is a joint effort of Disney Theatrical Productions, NETworks and Broadway Entertainment Group, with local partner in seasoned concert producer Ovation Productions in its first theater foray to also celebrate a milestone — its 35th anniversary. Here’s why you should catch the musical (if you don’t have plans already) when it hits the Philippine stage on Jan. 10 to 25 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as the opening salvo of the 2015 theater season.

1. The Beauty and the Beast coming to Manila is not just the musical’s first-ever international touring production; it’s also a celebratory run marking the Broadway debut of the musical two decades ago (and nearly quarter of a century since the Disney classic of the same title enchanted moviegoers). The STAR was part of a Philippine media group that got to watch the tour set off on a high note in Istanbul, Turkey, one of the world’s most historic cities, that provided a dreamy and age-old backdrop to a “tale as old as time,” what with its Byzantine churches, exotic mosques and Ottoman palaces.

Cogsworth, Wardrobe, Lumiere, Babette the feather duster and Mrs. Potts form part of the enchanting cast

2. When the musical arrives in Manila, it isn’t just a regular stop in the tour’s itinerary, which covers diverse markets — from Italy, Kazakhstan, United Arab Emirates, to Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. According to Liz Koops of Broadway Entertainment Group (who has previously been to Manila and is impressed at the revitalized theater scene), “We are very excited that it’s the first Broadway Disney musical to be brought to the Philippines. For that reason, it was important for us to premiere the production there in January. We chose Manila to premiere the Asian start of the tour. In the last few years, there’s been a number of musicals and we think that Beauty and the Beast is the perfect title (with) the music, the storyline. We think that the Filipino audience will love it!”

3. What better way to celebrate 20 years of Beauty and the Beast than by turning it into a reunion tour as well? Yes, the creative forces behind the original Broadway show are the same multi-awarded people bringing the current production to life. The beloved musical is directed by Rob Roth and choreographed by Matt West, with Tony Award-winning costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting design by Natasha Katz, scenic design by Stanley Meyer, sound design by John Petrafesa Jr. and music supervision by Michael Kosarin.

“This is the best version of Beauty and the Beast,” Roth told The STAR in an interview, “because we’ve taken all we’ve learned from all the Beauty and the Beast productions we’ve ever done. It’s so great to bring this version of Beauty and the Beast around the world.” Set designer Meyer added, “It’s a dream come true for the creative team to come together again. It’s really special for the team, and we hope it will translate for the audience.”  

Ovation Productions’ Renen and Celinda de Guia with Angela Rowles of Networks Theatrical Productions and Liz Koops of Broadway Network. Together with Disney Theatrical Productions and NETworks, they will be mounting Beauty and the Beast come Jan. 10 to 25 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines

4. The musical has been updated and considerably redesigned from the original version, thanks to the wonders of technology. Roth said, “Technology just got so much better,” adding that because the show is about looking past someone’s exterior, “the design is all layers (that) you see through things into other things.”

5. With that, the scenic design, sets and prop pieces have even become more dynamic. Meyer noted that the graphic sensibility is “more youthful as opposed to the antiquated.” He recalled: “When I designed the show 22 or 23 years ago, the original set was very literal. The direction from Walt Disney was to make the animated film come to life, and so, it was tricky because it was two-dimensional coming into a three-dimensional world. It was very literal with doorway and arches, windows and moldings…

“But when we started this (new) design five years ago, we were told that you can do whatever you want, whatever you think that needs to be reworked, so for me, as a designer, it was a dream come true because we’ve been working on it for so long. To have the opportunity to completely change it in some way, to make it less literal but more a surreal art form… to present to the audience something that will allow them to use their imagination, is much more interesting for me,” said the unassuming Meyer, whose impressive portfolio includes designing theme parks in different parts of the world.

6. One of the show’s more breathtaking sets is the West Wing. Meyer said, “You think it’s one thing — hideous and ugly like its resident, the Beast, but then, you see the magic in it because it opens like a butterfly, and you get the chills, and it sparkles that you know something fantastic is going to happen.”

7. The Beast also figures in one of the audience-favorite scenes — when he transforms into a prince right before your eyes, so quick it evokes what exactly happened in the animated film. The Beast actor doesn’t use a body double. Is it gimmickry? Magic? Meyer is keeping his lips sealed.

8. The costumes are truly to watch for. It’s been hailed as one of the most “eye-popping costume parades” ever to grace a Broadway stage — and the same visual spectacle is what Pinoys will see. From Belle’s jaw-dropping yellow ball gown, to Cogsworth’s costume that has a functioning clock on the actor’s face, to Lumiere’s candle hands, it’s what you remember from the animated film — and more. “The charm is real-time,” said Hassan Nazari-Robati, the actor playing the naughty Lumiere, “they (the creatives) put an extra sheen to it, the colors are much brighter, more glittery and sparkly with (about) 600 more lights.” 

9. More than just stepping up the visual splendor, the costume construction is completely different from what was done in the past, director Roth said, so much so it now allows more movement, fluidity and choreography even for characters like Mrs. Potts and the Wardrobe. In the film, these characters didn’t do dancing, in the Broadway version, they didn’t do much either because of the weight of what they wore which used to be made of steel, but now they’re fashioned out of polycarbonate fiber making room for really fancy dancing. Roth said, “As technology changed, it changed the show.”

10. Speaking of dancing, the iconic movie scene wherein you see dancing utensils and dishes to the tune of Be My Guest gets an upgrade in the musical with the special participation of Belle herself. This scene comes across like a high-energy Vegas number.  

11. The costumes also add a level of drama to the show because unlike the film version wherein the characters are fully transformed, in the stage version, the characters are slowly evolving into objects.

“In the film, they’re literally inanimate objects, a clock and a candle,” said James May, who plays the Beast’s uptight “majordomo” Cogsworth. “The script, they changed it a little bit for the stage show that they’re humans turning into these things. And if the spell is not broken, they can become inanimate versions, which is death basically.

“That’s one smart thing about the stage version. So, it made more sense that they’re human-size, and that they still have legs, and you know, it adds to the level of drama because it’s not just I don’t wanna be a clock, it’s ‘I don’t wanna die’ so it’s really smart to come up with that trick to make the story deeper.”

12. The whole company travels with 60 people. There are 30 cast members, 11 band members, 15 crew members, two guardians who look after the Chips (Mrs. Potts’ charming tea cup of a son) and two managers of the show. It was no joke gathering this group and the process was stringent, especially for the casting. It was to be the silver anniversary tour after all, so it deserved the best cast and crew.

13. The cast auditions were undertaken all over the US. Director Roth is very pleased and proud of his cast. He said, “It took about a year to cast them, we saw 7,000 actors to get our 32, and we found not only the most talented but also the nicest people. When I’m working on a show, I want to have a good time and have fun. When you cast the right people who also want to have a good time, who are serious about it, who are talented, of course, it could be fun and I’m having the best time.”

14. Taking on the lead roles are Hilary Maiberger as Belle and Daniel Pead as Beast. The opera-trained Maiberger recalled, “We both got cast two years ago and didn’t audition together, which I thought was odd. But the first day of rehearsals we met and immediately, we had unbelievable chemistry and he is one of my best friends, and we will remain friends, I think, for the rest of our lives. I think our chemistry onstage is very powerful and I think very believable because we do care about each other very much.”

15. Adding more believability and kilig to the musical’s central team-up is the real-life romance of the two leads. Yes, company manager Kristin Stewart confirmed, “Belle and Beast are actually dating.”

16. But what’s a lead cast without a reliable if not scene-stealing support? Just like in the film, Lumiere and Cogsworth’s banter is a delight to watch, while the scenes with the villain Gaston and his bumbling sidekick Le Fou (as well as Gaston’s groupies, also called the town’s Bimbettes) offer some of the musical’s funniest moments. You will notice, too, that the roles of Le Fou, the operatic Wardrobe and feather duster called Babette have been expanded in the musical.  

17. The Beauty and the Beast songs remain as sing-able and timeless as ever. No surprise there as the musical boasts of music by Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Tangled) and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), with additional songs with music by Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice (The Lion King, Jesus Christ Superstar). For Disney fans in the ‘90s, the mob song Kill The Beast still has that dread factor. Don’t stop yourself as well from mouthing “Tale as old as time/True as it can be” when the Oscar-winning theme comes on. 

18. Seven new songs were incorporated to the musical, including Human Again. Interestingly, we learned Human Again was a deleted song from the original soundtrack due to length issues. The song instead debuted in the Broadway musical.

19. It’s been quite a journey doing this show, and not just in terms of the places they’ve been to thus far, but also because of the learning experiences. Producer Koops said, “We spent about 18 months meeting and discussing and Disney (giving) input and assistance to make sure we got it right. In putting this production together, we knew what we wanted to do. Every time you do something new, you learn something. There are certain retouches here and there, but it’s been a rather joyful experience putting the show.”

As for finding a local partner in Ovation Productions, which is run by husband and wife Renen and Celinda de Guia, Koops said, “An important consideration was finding a local company and one who is involved in the arts business or live entertainment. Our partner Renen de Guia from Ovations Productions is a wonderful presenter. He’s been in the business for 35 years. For that reason, he thought that it would be amazing to do something different. He’s happy that we’ve found him. He’s a concert promoter. He just loved the idea of musicals and is very passionate about the arts.”

20. Still, the core and beauty of this production lies in its universal story. As Roth said, “The story of Beauty and the Beast is so worldwide, children understand it, parents and grandparents love it, because it’s about looking past the exterior, and into the beautiful part of people, and that’s a nice message to bring to the world.”

(Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will be staged at the CCP Main Theater on Jan. 9 to 25, 8 p.m. with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Presented by Disney Theatrical Productions, Inc., NETworks, Broadway Entertainment Group, MKFAE and Ovation Productions. It is made possible by Globe Business, Visa, Philippine STAR, Fox International Channels and Diamond Hotel. Tickets are priced at P7,895, P6,845, P5,790, P4,740, P4,210, P3,160 and P2,105, and are available at Ticketworld outlets (891-9999) and via www.ticketworld.com.ph, beautyandthebeast.com.ph and Facebook.com/beautyandbeastph.)


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