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.
It certainly feels like 2016 has been a never ending parade of losses from Alan Rickman, David Bowie, George Michael, Florence Henderson and so many more. Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, now join that list as well. We were all reeling from Carrie’s death at age 60 on December 27, a day after she suffered a heart attack, when we learned that her mother died after suffering a stroke. It was a stunning turn of events, taking two stars, two Hollywood icons, a mother and a daughter, a day apart.
Debbie, 84, was known for her breakout performance as an ingenue in Singin’ in the Rain, going toe-to-toe with Gene Kelly. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Her marriage to singing star Eddie Fisher, Carrie’s dad, came to an end after his affair with Elizabeth Taylor. He would marry Taylor who would then leave him for Richard Burton.
While Carrie will forever be celebrated for her iconic role as Princess Leia, Fisher’s career was longer and far more diverse than Star Wars. She made her film debut in Shampoo, starring opposite Warren Beatty. She went on to make many more films, including The Man With One Red Shoe, When Harry Met Sally, and the far underrated Soapdish alongside Sally Fields, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Kline, Elizabeth Shue, and Robert Downey, Jr. Her greatest talents, though, were put to good use as a writer. Fisher was known as being one of Hollywood’s best “script doctors,” sought after to fix troubled screenplays. She used to say her job was to make the girls smarter, but that the male lead actors were always asking her not to make the women funnier. She didn’t always comply. Fisher’s doctored screenplays included such successful films as Sister Act, The Last Action Hero, Outbreak, and The Wedding Singer. She also worked on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles with her old colleague George Lucas.
Carrie Fisher at the Book Signing for “The Princess Diarist” at Barnes and Noble on November 28, 2016 in Los Angeles.
Her debut novel was the semi-autobiographical Postcards From the Edge,which she later wrote the screenplay for as well. (The movie version stars Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, and Dennis Quaid. Don’t miss it!) She would write four additional novels, and they were all to some extent based on her own life. Wishful Drinking was published as a memoir following her one-woman play which she performed on Broadway.It in that work that she would pre-write her famous obituary: “No matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by own bra.” Her last book, The Princess Diarist, was published on November 22, and she was busy promoting it, often with her loyal dog, Gary, at her side.
Fisher suffered from bipolar disorder and in the past had been addicted to cocaine and prescription drugs. She spoke honestly and bravely about all these issues, becoming an advocate for de-stigmatizing mental illness and the dangers of self-medication. Because of this Harvard University awarded Fisher its Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism.
Go in peace Carrie and Debbie. Go in moonlight, dancing.
Photos from Bigstock. Top photo: Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds at at the “Debbie Reynolds: The Auction Finale” VIP Reception at Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio on May 14, 2014 in North Hollywood, CA.
Considered the “most versatile vocalist of the modern era,” you know that when Linda Ronstadt takes the stage, the crowd will rise, and shake the rafters. That was the case at the Tilles Center, in Brookville, Long Island last Thursday night. She’s not on a concert tour, nor a book tour (her bestselling memoir, Simple Dreams, came out in 2013), and there’s really nothing to “plug,” but it’s just Linda and her fans, who followed her career since the late ‘60s, and continue to support her in this chapter of her career. In 2009, Linda gave her last concert, and announced her retirement; her diagnosis of Parkinson’s the reason. These appearances are being called a “public speaking engagement,” a way to connect with the people she loved singing to, and for.
John Boylan and Linda Ronstadt
Escorted by her longtime manager, John Boylan, Linda sits in front of a large movie screen which allows her career to pass in pictures before our eyes, beginning with her early years, growing up with music all around her, and singing her favorite Mexican tunes with her brothers and sister in their Tucson, Arizona living room. At the age of two, Linda says, “I was told I could sing.” She learned to harmonize with her sister, and it’s the kind of singing she likes best; and the ballad is the preferred choice of song, but, she says, “I knew I’d have to include livelier songs.”
While her siblings went on to other things, Linda kept to the singing and at 17 went to California and began hanging at the famous Troubadour club, meeting other singers, playing with new musicians, and formed The Stone Poneys. Upon the screen comes a black and white photo of Linda at 17 with the 19 year old Jackson Browne, and a few other guys like Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner, who joined her backup band. Her first hit, “Different Drum,” came off the band’s second album. “At one point,” Linda says, “they told me they want to go off to form their own band.” That’s how the Eagles came to be. In 1968, Linda went solo.
Her versatile career took a turn into country music in her collaboration with good friends, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, for two top selling albums, Trio and Trio II. “Emmylou called me up and told me to come over, that Dolly was there. I did, and we sang together and thought, ‘a ha.’ ” At one point in her career, she “wanted to perform on a stage that had a curtain,” which drew a laugh. That desire brought her to the Public Theatre and a role in the hit musical, Pirates of Penzance, with Kevin Kline and Rex Smith, which also took her and her role as Mabel to the movie version. There came a point when she wanted to improve her range and vocal presentation, and knew that with one of the great American standards, there’s no room for error. She called up Nelson Riddle one day and asked if he’d work with her on one of the great classics, like the kind Frank Sinatra sang. “I was hoping he’d work on one song, but he came ready to do a whole album,” she says. “It was the most thrilling thing.”
John Platt and Linda Ronstadt
Of the onset of Parkinson’s, she first noticed it in 2000, “I knew it in my voice. It became more and more difficult to sing, and could only really whisper, and not always stayed in tune.” Appearing healthy and happy now, with a few pounds added to her once slight frame, Linda has, to the audience, come to terms with the diagnosis. In the second part of the night’s event, WFUV-FM radio host John Platt, joined her to do a Q and A with questions already submitted by audience members, covering topics like Was she ever interested in songwriting? “No, though I did write one song, I was never much of a writer, no desire to get into the songwriting business.” What does she do now? “More talking now. When friends come over, we used to sing a lot, now we talk a lot. I’m also interested in what happens with our immigration laws, and protect those who may be affected.” The crowd erupted with approval. Linda is also busy raising her adopted children, Carlos and Mary, and although she’s been linked to some celebrity beaus like George Lucas and Gov. Jerry Brown, had no interest in marrying. She has said, “it was not important to me.”
She can also reflect on a career that “defined a generation,” as one reviewer posted, garnering her multiple Grammy’s; the 2013 election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (despite her assertion that she was not a rock and roll singer); the Latin Grammy for Lifetime Achievement; and in 2014 at a White House ceremony, President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts.
In the opening paragraph of her epilogue, in the memoir, “Simple Dreams,” Linda writes this: “I live these days with my two children, and am watching them navigate the wonderful and strange passage from teenager to young adult. They both play instruments, have a lively and active interest in music, and use it to process their feelings in a private setting. This is the fundamental value of music, and I feel sorry for a culture that depends too much on delegating its musical expression to professionals. It is fine to have heroes, but we should do our own singing first, even if it is never heard beyond the shower curtain.”