Last night Jules, Jojo and I drove 53 miles (one way) to the Fred Kavli Theater in Thousand Oaks to watch the Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I’ve been looking forward to this for over a month. I have to say the wait, the drive and the cost of the tickets were all worth it. This has got to be one of the best musical productions I have ever watched. I was in complete awe from the first scene all the way till the actors took their final bow. I’ve seen a lot of theater productions, plays and musicals, I’ve enjoyed many both here and back home. And I have to say Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is easily in my top three.
For those who have lived in a cave all their lives and are not familiar with the fairytale, let me give a quick recap. Beauty and the Beast is about … well … a young beauty who falls in love with a beast (despite his hideous appearance and gruff nature). The beauty sees past the physical and falls in love with the beast’s soul and character. True love breaks the spell the beast is under, turning him back into the handsome prince he once was. He sheds his beastly appearance – which was a result of a curse placed on him by a fairy hoping to teach him about humility and prejudice. As with all fairy tales, they live happily ever after. Disney takes it a bit further and spins off the tale of Belle and the Beast with a cast of characters such as Gaston (Belle’s arrogant and obnoxious suitor); Lefou (Gaston's slow-witted side kick), and an array of the Beast's household servants turned into household objects as part of the curse - Lumiere (a candlestick), Cogsworth (as a self-winding mantle clock), Mrs. Potts (a teapot), and many more. The Disney version, as with all things Disney, is a musical extravaganza that makes every little girl dream of one day becoming a princess like Belle.
The Broadway production is the same way. From the first scene, where Belle sings of finding more to life than the provincial town she is from, to the finale where Belle admits she loves the dying Beast that breaks the spell which turns him back into the prince, I was glued to my seat and half wishing the play would go on and on. I loved how the musical took all the good parts of the Disney animated version, so all the familiar songs were performed: songs like “Belle” (which opened the show), “Gaston” (performed by the townsfolkin the tavern), “Be Our Guest” (performed by Lumiere and all the staff at the Beast’s castle), “Something There” (as Belle and the Beast start to see something more in each other), and the show’s classic and haunting song “Beauty and the Beast” (as the pair enjoy their first dance). The musical numbers were breathtaking and literally gave me chills down my spine. I was so excited to hear the recognizable tunes. But more than that, the musical had original songs as well, that helped tell the unfolding story. It was both familiar and new at the same time.
The cast was awesome! The young lady who played Belle (Ashley Moniz) was incredible. I thought she personified Belle in her every song, dance and with every line she uttered. The Beast/Prince (Chris Warren Gilbert) was intimidating and fascinating all at the same time. But my personal favorites of the night were Matt Merchant who gave a fantastic performance of Gaston. Despite being the show’s antagonist he was someone you looked forward to watching prance around the stage and break into song. I also loved Joshua Finkel, as the randy French candlestick, who was charming and brilliant in bringing his character, Lumiere, to life. Everyone else from Maurice (Belle’s dad) to Madame De La Grande Bouche (the opera singing bureau) were wonderful. The ensemble (both the adult and children group) all had great singing voices and performed such wonderful dance numbers and really brought such a classic story to life.
My favorite was the scene where the castle staff welcomed Belle to the castle through a dinner show entitled “Be Our Guest”. The song was catchy and the scene was really spectacular with dancing ladies (dressed as dishes) and handsome men (as cutlery), a salt and pepper shaker doing the whirling dervish dance, a human floormat tumbling across the stage, ladies as feather dusters doing the can-can, and candlesticks performing a cabaret. It was so well done I got goosebumps watching them thrill the crowd.
What I thought was the best part was the way the stage was set (there were different set backgrounds and props for almost every scene). The way they changed sets was so seamless you didn’t seem to notice as you found yourself transported to an enchanted forest, to Belle’s charming town, to the cavernous castle, and to the beautiful, sparkling grand ballroom. It was absolutely perfect. And the costumes were so good too. It was amazing how Lumiere really did look like a human candlestick, complete with glowing wax candles for his arms; Babbette was both a French maid and a feather duster, and on and on and on. I also loved how Belle’s and the Beast’s costumes were exact replicas of the dashing finery their animated characters had in the movie-version.
This was indeed a magical experience. I can not rave about it enough. If any of you ever have the chance to watch a touring performance of “Beauty and the Beast” in your city or find yourselves visiting the Broadway theater district in NY – you absolutely should go see this show!!! This is an incredible treat for the eyes, heart and soul - not just for kids but for adults too. Even my hubby who is a would rather watch a blockbuster movie than sit through live theater enjoyed himself. It’s truly a feast for the senses and a great way to spend 3 hours of your life.