You remember the story, the old fairy tale about discovering inner beauty and being transformed by the unconditional love of another. You remember the movie, Disney's tale of a plucky heroine, fearful villagers and talking teapots. Now make way for the Broadway stage version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which graces the Opera House stage for 12 ambitious days, starting on Wednesday, complete with every song, every trick and every bit of trademark Disney magic that Broadway audiences have been enjoying for seven years.
Beauty and the Beast was Disney's first transition from feature film to Broadway stage. For Disney, it no doubt seemed like a natural progression. The company had a history of putting together films with incredible scores, great animated song and dance numbers, and the same kind of romance and human struggle that were at the center of Broadway's greatest musicals. But many on the great white way were skeptical, and even suspicious, of the corporate giant swooping in and perhaps forever tainting the temple of Broadway.
Danyelle Bossardet, who plays Belle in this, the third touring production of Beauty and the Beast, understood that skepticism, but has found working for the Mouse a pleasant experience. "As an actor who has one of the most unstable jobs in the universe, I know we all appreciate that they provide jobs for actors," Bossardet begins. "It's not like Michael Eisner himself came and directed this show. It provided a lot of jobs for a lot of creative people."
But Bossardet's admiration of Disney's involvement on Broadway goes far beyond just employment. She has seen some incredibly high quality work come out of Disney's appearance there. She cites the incredible visual magic of designer Julie Taymor on The Lion King, and the leap of faith in bringing Disney's newest show, Aida, to the stage without the sure-fire draw of a previously released movie.
Closer to her own heart is the caring she has seen Disney show towards the people of Broadway. "Not only are they family oriented, they treat us like family," says Bossardet. She is especially glad about their support of Broadway Cares, Equity Fights AIDS. In fact, cast members, with Disney's blessing, will be doing a Benefit for the Spokane AIDS Network at Dempsey's on Monday, August 6. The cabaret-style event will showcase performers from the show performing a variety of songs from Broadway and other venues. It will be a rare chance to see these great performers au naturel, that is without the elaborate costumes that help create the magical world inside Beauty and the Beast.
The Tony Award-winning costumes, created by Ann Hould-Ward, are one of the reasons this is only the third national tour since the show opened on Broadway seven years ago. "They wanted to find a more economical way to tour the show so it could reach some of the smaller cities like Spokane," explains Bossardet. "They found a way of doing that with our incredible sets and costumes."
Some of the characters have to wear prosthetics and costumes that are custom-made for the actors who have those roles, so when one of those actors is unable to perform, there is a slight change in the show to accommodate a new character. "When the sugar bowl goes on vacation, you get to see the whisk instead," explains Bossardet, referring to the legendary $25,000 sugar bowl costume that is four feet in diameter and weighs 20 pounds. The sugar bowl is just one example of the extra mile this show goes in terms of costuming. Lumiere's fireproof prosthetic hands are kept burning with butane fuel. The Beast's costume is constructed of about 20 pounds of human hair, including seven yards of hair in his tail. Even Belle, who seems to have escaped the shape altering prosthetics most of the rest of the cast must wear, has her burden to bear. "That big gold dress I wear weighs 35 pounds," says Bossardet. "And I have to do a dance in it and look graceful!"
With all the attention given to the costumes, sets and special effects ("Disney magic," is all Bossardet would say about those) in the show, sometimes the wonderful story and moving music get lost in the shuffle, but this is, after all, a Broadway musical. The score of the film, written by the team of Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, won the duo an Academy Award. That score has been augmented by an additional song by Menken and Ashman, "Human Again," which was cut from the film, and by additional songs written by Menken and lyricist Tim Rice. "I think Tim Rice did an incredible job of getting the feeling that the late Mr. Ashman had," says Bossardet. "There's a respect there."
And, of course, in a musical, the songs tell the story, and the story is the part of the production that must resonate with audiences. Bossardet assures us that Beauty and the Beast does resonate. "It's a universal struggle with self-esteem, finding the beauty within," Bossardet explains. "It's very appealing to people, the hope within that message."
Bossardet finds her own character, Belle, struggles with this as much as any other. "She's trying to find her self-esteem, she's insecure," Bossardet says. "There's a song she sings to her father, 'Do You Think I'm Odd?' In that song she says, 'I'm where and who I want to be.' That's the most important thing any woman discovers in her life."
Bossardet also finds the idea of how we find and lose our own humanity an important theme that is explored more deeply in the longer stage version through the lives of the supporting characters. As the characters progress through the story, the audience observes the gradual physical changes that are taking the characters further and further from being human. "What's incredible is that you actually get to see, to watch them with their struggle," explains Bossardet. "It's a very real and sad thing that's happening to them. The desperation in that is very moving."
The relationship between Belle and the Beast is one of the things that gives those characters hope. "There's an incredible scene in the library where Belle is reading the Beast a story," says Bossardet. "Belle and the Beast find they have something in common through the story of King Arthur." This hope is perhaps most evident in the scene where the Beast allows Belle to leave the castle to help her ill father. "Grant [Norman, who plays the Beast] is an incredible actor, and he has this way of making this scene so emotional night after night," says Bossardet. "When he lets me go, it's just so valiant of him. It's a beautiful, beautiful scene."
Regardless of the incredible visuals, the touching story or the memorable songs, Bossardet reminds us that the real excitement here is the magic of live theater and the opportunity to entertain. "Just go, relax," she says. "Let us entertain you."
Beauty and the Beast runs from Aug. 1-12, with 17 performances at the Spokane Opera House. Aug. 2 at 2 and 7:30 pm; Aug. 4 at 2 and 8 pm; Aug. 5 at 1 and 6:30 pm; Aug. 11 at 2 and 8 pm; Aug. 12 at 1 and 6:30 pm; all other days at 7:30 pm. Weekday shows are $15-$55; weekend shows are $25-$60. Call: 325-SEAT.