Entering Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium last Tuesday night felt like stepping into a ball by accident. Immediately I was surrounded by clouds of perfume, make up and glitter: little girls in posh dresses, nicely done hair with clips, tiaras and bows – chic, fancy, glamorous. Everybody looked their best. And then there was me: in a good old flannel shirt and some sort of cowboy jeans with holes in them. Slightly underdressed for the Beauty and The Beast Broadway Musical. The odd one amongst all those princesses and princes. I felt like a foreigner: a little out of place. But in a weird backwards way my feelings of alienation fit right into the musical.
It is a well known fact that fairy tales always try to pass on some sort of moral. They are there for us to learn something, to take something with us, to prevent us from making mistakes. Beauty and The Beast shows a woman who likes to dream, to read, to think beyond the obvious, who has imagination. There is a whole village who doesn’t understand her, calls her odd and leaves her out of the scene, talks behind her back. There is a superficial poser, who doesn’t think about anything else but his own beauty and strength, who appears to be mean and sneaky when he tries to fulfill his wishes. There also is a selfish prince, without a heart, without a single thought of others. The story of the Beauty and The Beast has many layers and leaves room for a critical soul-searching. How do I behave? Am I mean? Do I care for other people? It is simple, but very important to check our behavior once in a while. Watching a film, a play or a musical should help us do that, as well as entertain us.
And there is the reason why I want to question the show I saw that Tuesday night. Don’t get me wrong, the production of ‘Beauty and The Beast’ was beautiful, grand, magical, enormous and very well done. Everybody who knows the Disney Cartoon from 1991 well realizes the amazing similarity between the musical and the film. It was Disney through and through. The actors acted in the same way the cartoon figures did and they even looked exactly like them. The costumes were very inventive and I couldn’t think of a better way to dress somebody up as a clock, a tea pot, a cupboard or a candle holder. The stage design was complex, well thought out and full of surprises. There was confetti flying through the air, a big moon, stars, a dancing fairy, wolves that looked like real wolves (I’m still trying to figure out if they used puppets or actual people dressed up as wolves). The most amazing stage effect was probably the metamorphoses of the Beast. He was swirling through the air and came down as the prince. It looked so real, that it felt like we really got to watch a magical moment. The entire musical was colorful, intense and loaded.
But to be honest, it was too much for me. The overload didn’t leave me enough room for own thoughts, own pictures, own imagination. It somehow overlapped the story itself. It made me focus on the effects and not on the tale. The beauty of the production even seemed like a contradiction to the critical points the story wants us to think about: beauty vs. imagination, entertainment vs. thinking beyond the obvious. Don’t be superficial! But you know what? There really is no harm in simply being entertained once in a while.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays until January 8, 2012 at the Jubilee Auditorium. Get tickets here.