For this last day in 2017 I treated myself to a Young People's Theatre (YPT) Production of Beauty and the Beast: The Broadway Musical. Watching this well-known story amongst the chattering of young people (otherwise known as children) did give me a new perspective on this "tale as old as time"--which is exactly what YPT's production aimed to do.
This production cut Disney Theatrical's Beauty and the Beast down to 85 minutes and transferred it to a much smaller stage. I usually do not read any program notes until after I see a show, but in this case I am glad I read Artistic Director Allen MacInnis's preface to this "chamber sized" production. It allowed me to focus on the story underneath all the spectacle: love and true acceptance between two outcasts, Beauty and the Beast.
I have been dreaming of the live staging of Beauty and the Beast since I was four years old. And in the past year, I have watched both the animated 90's version and live action 2017 movie many times--so switching that off to focus on a smaller retelling of the story did not come naturally. Then again, it didn't for the other young audience members either. I counted three different little girls wearing tiaras and the yellow Belle ballgown from the Disney movies. In the post show Q&A, the cast was quick to remind the children--and me--that they made Belle's dress pink instead of yellow on purpose. Without quite as much spectacle, MacInnis's production asked the audience to instead look at the characters and how they decided to change.
When I stopped comparing the design, scenes, and songs to the movies and looked at Beauty and the Beast through my young companions' eyes, I found much to inspire. When the Beast (Stewart Adam McKensy) and Belle (Celine Tsai) took center stage, I looked back at the children in the audience and wondered if they saw two people of color honored as royalty and heroes the same way I did.
As much as I love focusing on Belle--an independent woman who loves reading and bravely fights for herself and her loved ones--I felt the Beast's growth in this production. Lumiere (Damien Atkins), Cogsworth (Andrew Prashad), and Mrs. Potts (Susan Henley) tell him to be a true gentleman to Belle and to hold his temper in check before "Be Our Guest" in every production. Here we saw the Beast attempt to apologize for his poor behavior by bringing dinner to Belle's room. He never appeared scary or particularly gross, but instead like a lost creature ashamed and unsure of how to atone for his mistakes. Belle grows by testing the strength she always knew she had, but the Beast grows even more when he confronts all his fears and vulnerabilities to protect and love her.
Though the rest of the cast were not always center stage, every person on stage (and off) brought the world of the play to life. Their wolves (Dale R. Miller and Joel Schaefer) sent a chill down my spine--and so did the singing voice of Madame de la Grande Bouche (Zorana Sadiq) as she presented different gowns to Belle. And if I thought "Be Our Guest" would be less impressive on a small stage, I was dead wrong when I caught myself humming it as I waited for the streetcar home--especially when I thought back to Gaston's (Aaron Ferguson) particularly great costume for that number. He can pull off any outfit.
And finally, the magic of watching and then discussing live theatre with young people should not be under-rated. I knew how all the on-stage magic occurred, from the fight choreography to the lighting changes, because I have been making theatre for over 10 years. But as hands went up around me to ask about how the set pieces moved around and if the Beast really got hurt at the end, I realized that their perspectives are important. To them, both the show itself and the explanations are magic. Listening to them learn reminded me to appreciate this type of magic, too.
Luckily the show has been extended one week into the new year so there are seven more chances to catch this lovely retelling and remount of Beauty and the Beast: The Broadway Musical before the last petal falls (I couldn't help myself!).
*I purchased my ticket at full price. Row E seat 4 in the orchestra/main stage.