Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
The studio’s live action remake, with a superbly talented cast, breath-taking sets, lavish costumes, and special effects that enhance rather than detract, surpasses the original 1991 animated classic. With the previous film, as well as the stage version, in the rear view mirror, and with La La Land whetting the public’s appetite for more musical films, Beauty and the Beast’s timing couldn’t be better.
Dan Stevens as the Beast
Director Bill Condon leads a production team that manages to do everything right. Condon, whose film adaptation of the Broadway hit Dreamgirls, won two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes, also knows his way around a script. He won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Gods and Monsters which he also directed. The screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos builds on the original, filling in some of the backstory about Belle and the Prince/Beast. The score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice, retains the songs in the animated version, while eliminating some from the stage version, and adding several that serve to advance the story in key moments.
Emma Watson as Belle and Luke Evans as Gaston
The cast, many of whom had worked with Condon before, trusted his vision and were eager to sign on for this mission. Emma Watson, known to younger audiences as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, is radiant as Belle, projecting the heroine’s intelligence and kindness, but also her bravery when faced with danger. Her face lights up the screen and her singing voice projects a sweet innocence which befits her character.
Dan Stevens, the doomed Downton Abbey heir, might seem an odd choice to play the Prince who, because of his selfishness, is turned into the Beast by an enchantress. Yet he attacks (in some scenes quite literally), the role with relish. While the Beast is a fully digital character (according to the press notes the actor wore stilts and a prosthetics muscle suit with a grey bodysuit during filming), Stevens was determined to display the fine line between man and beast, striving to make his live action character “more dimensional than the Beast from the animated film.” He succeeds, revealing the human trapped inside a horrible-looking animal, particularly when singing the lament “Evermore,” a new addition to the score.
Kevin Kline as Maurice and Emma Watson as Belle
Belle’s father has evolved from the zany inventor in the animated version to an artist who creates beautiful, ornate music boxes. Kevin Kline’s mere presence adds depth to any scene he’s in. His Maurice projects a father’s love, but beneath the surface there’s a sadness about the past. (Through the magic of a mirror, the Beast takes Belle back to her life in Paris and she understands the secrets Maurice holds in his heart.) Kline’s Maurice is not without humor, especially when he encounters some of the talking objects in the Beast’s castle, and he delivers a stirring “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” another new song.
Josh Gad as LeFou and Luke Evans as Gaston
Gaston’s resume has been beefed up, transforming him into a war hero who saved Villenueve, the fictional French village, from invaders. What hasn’t been altered is Gaston’s quick-trigger temper, his oversized ego, and his inability to accept Belle’s refusal to marry him. Welsh actor Luke Evans brings his stage presence and booming baritone to the “role he was born to play,” according to Condon. Paired with Josh Gad as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, Evans takes advantage of Gad’s impeccable comic timing to make the interaction between the two fun to watch. (There’s been much pre-publicity – both positive and negative – about LeFou’s obvious attraction to the manly Gaston.)
The Castle Objects
Those who signed on as the humans doomed to live as various objects in the Beast’s castle until the spell is broken, include a mind-boggling group of A-list actors. For most of the film, they are voicing the characters, but they are seen briefly in the beginning and finally emerge in the flesh at the end. They include: Ewan McGregor as Lumière, the candlestick holder; Stanley Tucci as Cadenza, a harpsichord; Audra McDonald, as Madame de Garderobe the wardrobe; Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as Plumette, the feather duster; Ian McKellen, as the clock, Cogsworth; Emma Thompson as the teakettle, Mrs. Potts; and Nathan Mack as the teacup, Chip. Hattie Morahan who lurks around the village as the homeless woman, Agatha, is actually the Enchantress who casts the spell on the Prince.
Production Designer Sarah Greenwood, responsible for the visual aspect of the film, led a team of more than 1,000 crew members who worked to create the sets that would mimic those in the animated film. These sets built on the backlot at Shepperton Studios outside London, include: the fictional town of Villeneuve; the castle’s ballroom, with a floor made from 12,000 square feet of faux marble; Belle’s bedroom; and the castle’s library holding thousands of books created specifically for the production. The largest set – 9,600 square feet – is the forest surrounding the castle which included real trees, hedges, a frozen lake, a set of 29-foot high ice gates, and about 20,000 icicles.
Costumes are period perfect and eye-catching. Designer Jacqueline Durran’s team, made up of embroiders, milliners, jewelers, painters, and textile artists, worked for three months before filming began. That lead time was necessary since Durran wanted to create sustainable costumes from fair-trade fabrics. The greatest challenge was designing that iconic yellow dress that Belle wears when dancing with the Beast in the castle’s ballroom. Made from 180 feet of feather-light satin organza, the dress used up 3,000 feet of thread. All that attention to detail pays off. Belle’s gown glows in that dance number, a high point in a film with many high points.
In a cynical world, the “tale as old as time,” never gets old. Disney’s new version continues that legacy.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
Beauty and the Beast opens nationwide on March 17, 2017.
Author/Actor Chazz Palmintiri first shared his personal story with the public in a highly lauded 1989 one man show. Robert De Niro subsequently made his directorial debut with a film starring Palminteri and himself. With that success came a revival of the solo presentation on Broadway. And now a musical. I have to say, I regret missing the piece in its original form. “It’s my story, the one that shattered the world that I knew” would then have hit home.
“…a warm summer night on Belmont Avenue, you’d hear Italian men romancing their women…Marie, get the fuck in the car!” (She gives him the finger.) Lines like these, which I presume come from the original source, are thoroughly appealing. Nicknames of both street kids and local goons are wonderfully explained. (As the latter are introduced, each faces front and sideways while flashes go off resembling the taking of mug shots.) There are conversations and come-backs that land with winning specifics. The book holds solid.
Bobby Conte Thornton and Hudson Loverro
After a cliché musical opening (done less obviously by In the Heights), a doo-wop group sets the scene. The show might have had great time with this genre, rhythm and blues, and period pop. Instead most numbers emerge an amalgam of pop and generic Broadway. I’m afraid the talented Alan Menken has been too long with Disney to put much pith into the score which sounds homogenized. Glenn Slater’s lyrics fare somewhat better, though I never figured out to what undisclosed “talent” the protagonist was supposed to stay true. (A reoccurring theme.) There are at least five reprises.
Rory Max Kaplan, Keith White, Dominic Nolfi, Joe Barbara, Hudson Loverro, Cary Tedder
Still, much about the musical is entertaining. Its story, which reminds one of a 1950s black and white film, is narrated by grown up Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton for whom mustering sympathy is nigh impossible) until he steps into his teenage shoes. At nine years-old, the boy (Hudson Loverro with apt braggadocio), instinctively covers for street boss Sonny (Nick Cordero) and becomes his pet. Minutes in a church confessional and “my soul was clean.”
With status, he acquires neighborhood deference, freebees, and entry into the periphery of mob life. Throwing dice for his inadvertent mentor (in a scene out of Guys and Dolls) seems like great fun, especially when he earns an appreciable tip. Errands are run – nothing dangerous. Sonny is genuinely fond of the boy. At no point does he consider taking him into the business. They call me C and “I Like It,” Calogero sings proudly in one of the cool songs. (Ain’t It The Truth?” is another.)
Hudson Loverro and Richard H. Blake; Bobby Conte Thornton and Nick Cordero
Despite being warned off by bus driver father Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and earnest mom Rosina (Luicia Giannetta), C trails Sonny like a puppy, watching and learning. “The working man’s a sucker, kid, remember that,” the boss says. “They don’t love him, they fear him,” Lorenzo points out when his son observes Sonny’s popularity. Our hero is at the center of a tug of war and might go either way.
Things are brought to a head when C falls for a black girl named Jane (Ariana Debose). Shades of West Side Story. All their friends are against a relationship. The two factions first lurch at the edge of bigoted violence, then literally explode. If it weren’t for Sonny…
The tale has a big heart and aspects to recommend, but it could have been so much better.
Bobby Conte Thornton (center) Nick Cordero (right) and The Company
Nick Cordero’s Sonny is flat out the best thing on the stage. The artist inhabits posture, gesture, accent and attitude making his character whole and human. He sings well losing none of this.
To my mind, Directors Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks both miss opportunity to show character definition and allow the leading man to get away with being bland. Stage flow, pacing, and use of levels are excellent.
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo enlivens proceedings. There’s a splendid, original number employing claps and slaps. Beowulf Boritt’s Set contains terrific, multi-story fire escapes against backgrounds that look like amateur summer stock. William Ivy Long’s Costumes work for the men, but are universally unflattering on the women. Fight Coordination by Robert Westley is as fake as it comes.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Bobby Conte Thornton (center). Bradley Gibson & Ariana DeBose (left), Lucia Giannetto & Richard H. Blake (right)
A Bronx Tale Book by Chazz Palminteri Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Glenn Slater Based on the book by Chaz Palminteri Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks Longacre Theatre 220 West 48th Street
Before Howard Ashman and Alan Menken hit pay dirt with Little Shop of Horrors, long before they became synonymous with reinvigorating Disney animated movies, 1979’s God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, based on the Kurt Vonnegut book, appeared briefly Off Broadway. Vonnegut’s sharp irreverence, couched first in science fiction, then as fantasy and finally as wry, humanist observation, was almost a rite of passage for a generation of smart young people enmeshed in alternative culture.
The author was older than many admirers, often referring to traumatic World War II experience beyond their ken, but shared with them a social conscience that emerged like a pendulum swinging between cynicism and idealism. This volume in particular might have been written by Bernie Sanders supporters.
Santino Fontana (Eliot)and the office staff
In the first minutes of the production, Eliot Rosewater (Santino Fontana) enters with a pratfall and haplessly donates $50,000 of his family’s foundation to a poet seeking immeasurably less.“Go and tell the truth,” he instructs the nonplussed writer. He’s devoted and he’s loaded/So we haven’t a complaint…sings his staff.
The Rosewater Foundation, created by Eliot’s U.S. Senator father (Clark Johnson) to help descendants avoid paying taxes on the estate, is based in New York City, not Rosewater, Indiana where the family manse stands empty. Though it’s “handled” by a large legal firm, Eliot has inherited control. He wears the crown uncomfortably and is often drunk. Obsessions include Volunteer Fire Departments (we learn why later) and a science fiction novelist named Kilgore Trout who is quoted and later appears as the voice of “real” sanity. (James Earl Jones). A psychiatrist deems Eliot incurable for reasons of not gratefully toeing the gilded line.
Despite, or perhaps because of, advantages, the young man couldn’t be more of thepeople. As written and expertly acted, Eliot seems like sweet, slightly obtuse Charlie Brown with an adult conscience. Equally uneasy in the upper echelon lifestyle curetted by loving wife Sylvia (Brynn O’Malley), frustration builds until our hero decides he must go in search of his destiny and disappears. Letters arrive from Hamlet to Ophelia, the escapee’s perception of himself and Sylvia. The other is Volunteer Fire Departments. We learn about this fixation later.
Skylar Astin (Norman Mushari)
Meanwhile, Norman Mushari (Skylar Astin), a young lawyer at the firm, learns of a codicil in the Rosewater Foundation set-up that states Eliot can be replaced by another family member if he’s proved mentally unstable. The ambitious associate recalls what his professors told him about getting ahead in law. “… just as a good airplane pilot should always be looking for places to land, so should a lawyer be looking for situations where large amounts of money were about to change hands.” One practically sees Eureka! flash over his head.
Leap-frogging Volunteer Fire Departments across the country (including a delightfully staged musical number), Eliot also has a eureka moment and returns to his depressed hometown. He opens the house, sets up an office, and becomes Rosewater’s defacto therapist and philanthropist (black telephone), as well as a member of the Volunteer Fire Department (red telephone.)
Brynn O’Malley (Sylvia) and the townspeople
We meet and compassionately hear from raggle-taggle citizens who grow to think of him as a Saint. Aspiring to be supportive, Sylvia arrives, and tries, how she tries to fit in! Eventually, however, his patrician spouse has a meltdown at a meticulously planned soiree when her guests prefer Cheese Nips to pate and coke to champagne. Brynn O’Malley’s deadpan apoplexy is as convincing as her love for and incomprehension of Eliot.
Kate Wetherhead (Caroline Rosewater), Kevin Del Aguila (Fred Rosewater)
While Eliot is altruistically fulfilling himself, Norman has found Fred (Kevin Del Aguila) and Caroline (Kate Wetherhead) Rosewater, in, wait for it, Pisquontuit, Rhode Island. The couple are bickering malcontents not adverse to swindling rich relatives. Both actors are marvelous in the deftly staged “Rhode Island Tango” and apple-pie-corny “Plain Clean Average Americans.” It appears to be a slam dunk, but of course, is not.
Narrative displays several signature Vonnegut themes, the familiar device of God-like narration (James Earl Jones), and characters found in other books by the author. Lack of this awareness in no way impedes enjoyment. There’s also a brief scene from one of Kilgore Trout’s space adventures – a disconnect, but very funny. Howard Ashman’s book and lyrics are literate, specific, and filled with heart. Alan Menken’s music is, well, fine. This was their first collaboration.
Santino Fontana, James Earl Jones (Kilgore Trout) and company members
Santino Fontana’s embodiment of Eliot is consistently engaging and sympathetic. Really, one wants to take him home to mom. The actor is completely natural and has an appealing voice.
Skylar Ashton (Norman Mushari), who looks too much like Fontana, is a solid player but could have more fun with numbers like “Mushari’s Waltz” in which his ballet seems restrained.
James Earl Jones literally lends resonance to the piece. His Kilgore Trout is a credible curmudgeon.
Of the townsfolk, Rebecca Naomi Jones (Mary Moody), Liz McCartney (Diana Moon Glampers), and Kevin Ligon (Selbert Peach) shine.
Director Michael Mayer uses Donayle Werle’s simply structured Set with skill and aesthetic variety. A fire pole and hose are used to great effect. Small stage business adds immeasurably. Heart and humor go hand in hand.
Choreography by Lorin Latarro is beguiling. Leon Rothenberg’s Sound Design couldn’t be crisper or better balanced.