It's a tale as old as time, but it also never gets old.
The stage adaptation of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” began its Manila run on January 10 as the main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines filled with families, towing little girls dressed as Disney princesses.
With a running time of a little more than two hours (with a 20-minute intermission), the musical remains faithful to the humor, magic and charm of the 1991 animated feature.
From screen to stage
It is especially successful in turning characters like Gaston and his sidekick LeFou into flesh and blood, while retaining all their cartoony looks and mannerisms—including pratfalls accompanied by the requisite sound effects.
Also fun: Lumiere the candelabra, poofing his candle hands on and off at dramatic moments, and Cogsworth the grandfather clock who grows a wind-up key on his back as the story progresses.
Other minor characters have been given expanded roles in the musical, including the French-maid-turned feather duster and Belle’s wardrobe, which is revealed to be a once-famous opera singer.
Also making the transition from screen to stage are Mrs. Potts the teapot, Chip the teacup, Belle’s dad Maurice the inventor and the three silly girls who are crushing on Gaston.
The show-stopping “Be My Guest” from the animated feature has been cleverly reimagined for the stage, with a chorus of dancing cutlery dressed in gold holding round bendable fans manipulated to inventive effect.
But the most emotionally affecting moments belong to Belle, played with natural ease by Hilary Maiberger.
She is especially moving on the song “A Change in Me,” which is a re-examination of her feelings for The Beast.
The song is actually one of nine new tunes written especially for the musical by Tim Rice and Alan Menken. Interestingly, according to Wiki, it was added only in 1998 for R&B singer Toni Braxton, when she joined the Broadway cast. The song has been in every production since then.
Like some of the littlest members of the audience who came dressed in Belle yellow, the musical succeeds in delivering a total experience.
When one enters the theater, the stage is already dressed for the part—with a curlicued arbor that recalls the illustrations of old school fairy tales, and a glowing pink rose projected on a center screen.
The transition from scene to scene is seamless and clever, too. Stage hands dressed like snow leopards rotate and angle props to suggest new perspectives. Drapery falls from the rafters to show that the scene has shifted from, say, the village to the Beast’s castle. A stage-wide diaphanous screen onto which animated graphics appear suggest the menacing woods or a snowstorm.
With “Beauty and the Beast” being such a crowd pleaser, one can’t help thinking why it’s been staged in Manila so belatedly. The Manila shows are part of the musical’s 20th anniversary tour, after all.
But one look at the cast, the ingeniously designed props, and then thinking about the cost of transporting all requires more math than I can muster.
But all asides aside, the fact is that “Beauty and the Beast” has come to town. And from screen to stage, a tale as old as time has proven itself to be timeless and magical.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines has been extended to February 1. Showtime is at 8 pm, with matinees at 2 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at 8337.12, 7228.32, 6114.24, 5005.44, 4445.76, 3336.96 and 2222.88 are available at Ticketworld outlets (+632 891 9999) and online.