I saw the current touring version of Beauty and the Beast tonight – first time I’ve actually seen it, which is kind of strange given that it’s my favourite of the modern, pre-Pixar Disney movies. I was just literally never in the right city at the right time until now.
Unfortunately, this staging had some problems – primarily a literal stage issue, as they covered a full 1/4 of the top of the stage with scrollwork, making it impossible for people in the higher levels of seating to see anything in the back of the stage, including the majority of the Beast’s interactions with his rose. Those aside, they made a few directoral decisions that didn’t sit terribly right with any of us (us being my sister, her roommate, and one of Greta’s coworkers). First, they turned up the creep factor on Lumière quite a bit, to the point that it wasn’t flirting, it was harassment – and with several of the characters. None of us talked about it as it was happening, but all came to that conclusion on our own.
Secondly, and more disturbingly? They really upped Beast’s violence – and they did so in ways that crossed the perpetual problem that Beauty and the Beast has: how closely can they toe the domestic violence line without going so far as to make Beast completely unsympathetic.
Unfortunately, for this production, they not so much crossed the line as they got it in sight and then took a flying leap over it. Beast throws Belle around, he grabs her head and chin several times, pins her against railings, etc – and that’s just the physical stuff. When coupled with the bad temper and the language, and it is just All Around Bad.
I know I’m not remembering the movie with particular rosy glasses – it definitely toed that same line, which has been a problem with the story since forever. I think the major difference is that in the movie, we see time pass, and Belle has a chance to learn why the Beast is so damaged. Yes, this falls into another problematic area: girl saving a wounded man with the power of her love, but the movie manages to skirt it – not, perhaps, well, but it at least suggests that they knew what they were doing and what they were trying to avoid.
Unfortunately, losing the seasonal moments and the sense of time passing, along with the more gradual softening of Beast, makes the domestic violence allegory already stand out. When you then add in the physicality of this interpretation of the story, it becomes significantly disturbing on a level that seems very anti-Disney.
And yet, after all that? They black out the stage when Gaston dies. Because apparently we can show young girls being beaten by the man they’ll marry, but we can’t show a man falling to his death. Yeah, that’s healthy.
Ultimately, I think the story suffers in stage version. That said, I did really enjoy the new songs added for the play, and the young lady playing Belle was fantastic – it was like the animated Belle stepped off the screen and on to the stage. Several of the ensemble characters stood out, as well – unfortunately, the other weakness in the play was again Beast, who rarely used his full voice when singing, and the music suffered from that.
Overall, I’d say that it’s worth seeing for a slightly different interpretation, but if you take children, view it as an opportunity to discuss appropriate relationships and boundaries with them, rather than expecting the more cheerful movie version of the story.